JJ Proville: When did you get started in the world of charcuterie?
Jason Everett: I got started at Bouchon. Working atthere was great because if items paté, salmon rillettes, foie gras, were on the menu, you were responsible for producing it. It wasn’t something that the chefs did and then handed to you. That’s the great thing about that restaurant, I believe. If you are a fish cook, you butcher your own fish and make your sauce. Everything that pertains to your station, you do. I think I did garde-manger for 8 or 9 months there, and really fell in love with making my own patés and rillettes. I’m a little obsessed with charcuterie because, to me, it’s the most rewarding thing. I’ve never been much of a baker, but I think most people can say you never know how its going to turn out until its done, and similarly, I like that you aren’t 100% sure. When you’re making a cassoulet you can taste it and you can say either it’s good or it’s not. When you’re making a paté or you’re curing a lomo or a ham that’s going to sit for six months in your storage, you’re taking a gamble.
JJP: Where did you get the idea for the Spanish style lomo?
JE: Someone in a food magazine was talking about how great lomo was, and I had never tasted it before. Mario Batali’s father in Seattle was talking about how much he had enjoyed it, and I had never even heard of this cured pork loin. I started researching it and it was impossible to find a recipe for it. But, I actually had a buddy that was coming back from Spain and he brought back some lomo and we ate it. It was really one of those times when I tasted a charcuterie and it was like ‘I’ll do whatever I have to do to replicate this’. It just became one of those projects, and it really wasn’t easy because there really aren’t a ton of recipes. If you do find a recipe it’s in Spanish. So after various translations through people and through computer programs, I got four recipes and came up with the one I have, and I’m just really happy with it. My philosophy on our charcuterie here is if we can’t do it better than when we buy it, then we aren’t going to attempt it.
JJP: What do you do with all the cuts?
JE: Whole pig is the way to go. You pay $400 for the beast, but at the same time you get a lot of fresh product from it. It becomes very cost effective.We’ll make pancetta out of the belly; we’ll make lomo out of the loin; we’ll smoke the tenderloins and use those on a pizza; we’ll make tête de cochon out of the head, and braise the trotters. The shoulder is also really inexpensive. It’s just a really great versatile piece of protein that works great with sausage.
JJP: Do you ever order individual cuts?
JE: We order in parts when we find ourselves in between animals. The purveyor we have is a great guy. He actually passed away. There’s a paragraph about him in the first French Laundry cookbook. He’s just a great local producer. His name was Hobbs Shore and the company is called Hobbs’ Applewood Smoked Meats. Our bellies that we make pancetta with go from $2.98 a pound. That’s a very low cost piece of pork belly, and they skin it for us when we order it when we need one. So for less than $3 a pound we get this great belly. Pork loin is $4.38 a pound. The 6 pound loins will cost us about $30, and then our pork liver we get from Hobbs as well is 98 cents a pound. We take the pork liver and the pork shoulder and we make this beautiful paté de campagne that is very elegant and for which we charge a fortune. We get our boneless pork butt for $1.79 a pound.
JJP: So I was looking at something very interesting that you have, the curing chests. Are those in the walk in?
JE: Yeah, I have this huge chest in my office above my computer and that is where we store all of our dry cured charcuterie. The lomo is up there, the bresaola and the pancetta.
JJP: Is there any sort of temperature control?
JE: It has an AC unit attached to the side. Try to imagine an AC unit that you’d buy at Home Depot that you would use for your house.The box is airtight. We try to keep it at a constant temperature of 60°F. We also have a thermometer in there that has the humidity and the temperature. I keep it at 60°F because I like to be on the safe side. It’s very very clean. No pests. There is never a chance of any of any contamination. From the restaurants I have worked in, the integrity of the product is our highest concern. The best we can hope for is that everyone else serves food in the same manner.
JJP: Who built the chest for you?
JE: We have our engineering handy man that helps out around the hotel and restaurant. His name is Juan Carlos—a gentleman from Argentina.
JJP: So what’s the idea behind the Artisanal Menu?
JE: When I took over as chef I had some big shoes to fill. Ryan Fancher was the executive chef before me, and he was extremely talented. He was previously the sous chef at The French Laundry for five years and opened Per Se. I was pushing the envelope with him for a long time with our charcuterie. We always had a small charcuterie plate, but I knew it was something that I enjoyed and that we could do more here. So as soon as I got the position I wanted to make some changes in the restaurant to show my style different from Ryan’s so that was my first pushWe are so lucky we have all these great farmers around. I’m still a young enough chef where I get that learning curve where I can play with my main dishes and people love it. The thing that I do consistently best are my artisanal dishes that take a lot of time and a lot of love.
JJP: In terms of the economy do you think that the artisanal menu presents a lower price choice?
JE: Sure. I always liked the artisanal menu as well because conceptually you can have that small plates restaurant without that concept, but you can have a couple pieces of charcuterie on a menu. There’s a pretty good span on price there for that, and it’s light and not tied to anything. You can enjoy a nice glass of wine with it. I’m trying to cast that wide net. You don’t want to be everything to everybody but at the same time we’re in the business of making people happy.
JJP: So you’re still getting a pretty good margin for it?
JE: Absolutely. Especially with the “tour” which is everything. I love to get people that can’t decide what they want and say ‘why don’t we just get the whole thing?’ From a restaurateur’s point of view, I’m selling them a $60 first course, which works out well.
JJP: Have you noticed a surge in diners ordering from the artisanal menu?
JE: Yeah, but I think that most of that comes from how we’ve conceptually moved it around the menu. At first we had it as its own menu. There would be a table of four and four people would get a dinner menu, and then we would have one artisanal menu that would be for the table. Our first thought was that this menu needed its own dedicated menu But it definitely didn’t work. People would pick it up and put it down, and we had hardly sold any of it. Then we ended up putting it on top of the menu and really streamlining the menu itself. I like it more because it follows the less is more approach.
JJP: In surveys we have noticed that diners are starting to order more appetizers and share plates. Does your artisanal menu advantage you in this respect?
JE: Absolutely. I pay $2 per pound for the pork butt and charge $8 for a 4 ounce portion!