Monday, January 27, 2014

When Pigs Fly

The Grill Room’s Pork Cook Off
By Matthew Ross and Lauren DeSantis

From February 6-8, The Grill Room, in conjunction with Eco-Friendly Foods, is hosting a pork cook-off. We trotted off to a media tasting luncheon on January 8 in The Grill Room’s private dining room to make sure that this was no pig in a poke and that every inch from snout to tail was up to snuff.
The result? This is SOME PIG!

The Concept:  Know your pig.

Amazing developments in refrigeration, trucking, rail service, genetic engineering and other initiatives have allowed American farmers to go from feeding 76 million Americans in 1900 to 314 million today. This has allowed for increased variety and consistency in grocery offerings across the United States. The downside to this technological revolution is that some people have lost touch with the origins of their food. This has also led to corporate consolidation across the farming industry that, some argue, has sacrificed quality for quantity.

Bev Eggleston of Eco-Friendly Foods wants us eaters to know our food. Why? So that we can make informed choices about what we want to eat, what we do eat, how much we pay, what footprint we want to leave, and how we treat our own bodies. A bit highfalutin for a pig farmer? Not at all! Who knows and respects food more than those who grow and nurture it? Plus, with meat in particular, choosing the source of your meat can be a wise health choice, not to mention increasing the chance of a delicious eating experience. Eco-Friendly Foods wants its customers (restaurants and individuals alike) to know that they take sustainability very seriously and think of their farming practices akin to the alternative energy industry creating, as Bev called it, alternative food.

We can understand the value of being thoughtful about food. It can elevate the experience regardless of whether you enjoy it in a restaurant or your home. 

The Menu

We began with a pig head croquette served with butternut squash agrodulce, smoked paprika and thin sliced pork belly, our only visual nod to bacon all meal. The croquette was a delicious halfway point between a hush puppy and suppli al telfono. Paired with Domaine Carneros sparkling wine by Taittinger, it made for a nice warming seasonal start to our pigging out.

We then enjoyed a mushroom bacon bisque with blood sausage and sage and a Trimbach Riesling. The bisque was thick and rich and satisfying and demonstrates The Grill Room’s and Eco-Friendly Foods’ commitment to use everything but the squeal. The white areas shown in the photo are parmesan foam, which added a lightly creamy and savory touch to the wintry dish.

From there, we were served slow cooked pig cheeks with celeriac and langoustine tail and a Far Niente Chardonnay. You can’t get much higher on the hog than its cheeks. The Grill Room’s executive chef, Jakob Esko, made a tender sous vide rendition that reminded us of short ribs. The langoustine tail was especially tender and made for a tasty surf ‘n’ turf.

Bev from Eco-Friendly Foods went whole hog on the main course. Literally. We were treated to a roasted whole suckling pig accompanied by a Miura Pinot Noir. This entrée made us hog wild. The porcine portion itself was reminiscent of Peking Duck, but served over cauliflower couscous and lentils. 

A suckling pig is a young pig that is still weaning. Milk-fed is the equivalent term when used with veal or lamb. Ours was cured in paprika, sea salt, sugar and slow cooked overnight. It was then finished with high heat to crisp the skin. It was soft, tender, flavorful with just the right amount of fat, meat and crispy skin.

Seeing the whole pig presented can be jarring to some, but this is part of Bev’s know-your-food squeal. I mean spiel. Most of us purchase our meat in tidy rectangles wrapped in plastic and polystyrene at the supermarket. Well, it doesn’t start out that way. Our petite porky main had been doing just swine (I mean fine) on an organic, sustainable farm until just days before.

To finish, Chef Esko served us an apple tart tatin with candied pecans and bacon ice cream for dessert, paired with a bison grass flavored vodka and freshly squeezed green apple martini. It was just the right blend of sweet and sour to pair with the apple tart. The bacon ice cream was homemade using bacon fat along with cream and was gently seasoned with cardamom. 

So, if you’re feeling like fine swine and dining, head on over to the posh trough at The Grill Room February 6-8. Our take? Put it this way: As we left The Grill Room, we cried “oui, oui, oui!” all the way home.
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