Torontonians are starting to pay a lot more attention to where their food comes from. Restauranteurs benefit from close proximity to farms across Ontario, supplying goods that go from farm to table (and fast). Chefs like Carl Heinrich of Top Chef Canada and his partner Ryan Donovan from Toronto’s popular Richmond Station emphasize a tight relationship between growers, farmers, producers and chefs. I caught up with the chef/butcher duo at this summer’s Saveur Stratford Festival. Ryan took apart a wild boar, Carl made presskopf (also known as head cheese —a type of cold cut), and the two educated me on the benefits of subscribing to a nose-to-tail philosophy.
Owners of a very meat-centric restaurant, being conscientious about the animals they source is the first step. Heinrich and Donovan make every effort to know where the food they buy comes from, this being the core philosophy behind their cuisine. At Richmond Station, all of the animals are delivered in whole. The restaurant boasts a meat locker with a rail and table, where Ryan can spend up to seven hours at a time taking apart a 900-pound cow. It is not just beef and pork however; Ryan receives deer, rabbits, chickens, ducks, halibut and lobsters whole as well.
Buying an entire animal as a restaurateur just makes sense. In the case of this particular wild boar (from farmers Fred & Ingrid, so I was told) the waste will only be about 2% (the eyeball being one thing tossed). Financially speaking, using the less desirable bits like the head can provide an excellent return on investment. One way to do so is to prepare a presskopf or head cheese, which is easier than it sounds. After boiling half of a head (note that the foam is a result of blood and impurities), Carl removes the skin, ears, tongue, cheeks and any muscle, and puts it aside. The bones are then discarded. Anything that feels really soft to the touch will be delicious and anything that remains hard at this point won’t soften, so he doesn’t keep it. All the meat is chopped up and put in the pot with shallots (diced small), mustard, capers, cornichons, herbs and some of the cooking liquid to bind things together. The skin and bones contain a lot of collagen, allowing this to turn to gelatin after refrigerating overnight. Carl takes the presskopf, portions and breads, and using a deep fryer makes croquettes.
Although this process may seem innovative, using the entire animal is not a new concept. Historically across the globe, people were confronted with the same problem. Without refrigeration, the best way to enjoy an animal in five months time would be to preserve it somehow. Different cultures adopted different methods, and what we enjoy today as charcuterie is a selection of some of those preparations. The team at Richmond Station take any cuts of meat that they have limited quantities of and cure it to serve on their charcuterie. This is not without significant effort; some cures take a whole afternoon and some take about half of a year to make.
Essentially by curing you are removing water. Curing also changes the PH (potential hydrogen) prolonging the capacity for the meat to stay out at room temperature longer. The salt (nitrate) draws out moisture and sugar (dextrose) prevents it from becoming too salty. The process uses microorganism bacteria that essentially eat the fat, protein and sugar in the meat and make it acidic enough to be safe. This happens with wine, beer and bread as well.
The trimmed scraps from the process of butchering go into salami, Ryan explains. The outside round from the leg becomes capicollo, the belly is used for bacon and the loin and rack are brined. The fatcap on a Berkshire can be up to half an inch thick, so there is plenty of fat to use for whipped lardo, duck confit or tocook potatoes. Skin is all collagen and using it to make stock creates a gelatinous liquid to make things like coq au vin. Chicharon (or pork rinds) are great served with vinegar and chilis for dipping.
But the best reason to subscribe to the nose-to-tail philosophy for these two is the chance to be more creative. At Richmond Station the menu changes upwards of twice a day. The cooks are inspired by the ever-changing ingredient, and they are influenced from all over the world when creating the dinner menu. Any night you might see Mediterranean, Moroccan or Italian selections. Using the whole animal provides a challenge that allows the staff and chefs to grow, and Heinrich and Donovan are proud to provide an environment where creativity is an essential part of success.