Friday, August 29, 2008

Hello, again!

I'm back. After a summer writing and working for Diner Journal, I'm back. Below is the last of the blog entries I wrote. This is what I've been up to. It's been just great.

photo by Anna Dunn

Butch 8.21.08

So, uh, since I've spent three posts and an entire summer doomsdaying my way through the history of meat eating – and, since, the whole point of that tirade was to tell you something else, something wonderful, and not just make you depressed about your love of pork belly, I figured, well, I should probably tell you about that something else:

Tom Mylan is the in-house butcher for these restaurants.

You may already know this. Or you may not know this. But undoubtedly, if you've tasted this meat, you will want to know more about this.

I go back into the walk-in. Tom is slicing through a dark, shiny orb that turns out to be beef liver. It's Wednesday, so he's working through the two pigs and steer that arrived from Fleischer's yesterday. They arrived hanging weight meat, huge hulks of muscle and tissue and bone and skin. By now he's gotten the pigs into primal thirds: shoulder, loin, belly, sirloin and ham. He gestures to an invisible stack of pigs on the block, saying, "All this is done."

The radio is on and it's hot. Mark's coming to take meat to Bonita and we have to get those bags of it into a cooler for him. I jump in and once we've loaded the meat in half way, Tom warns, "Watch out, they're a little bloody on the outside."

Then we're back to talking beef. Tom tells me about smoking, brining, braising. I ask about the burgers. He grinds the beef twice so it sticks together, but it's still coarser than most ground beef because the holes on the grind plate are larger. That's what gives the burgers their meaty quality – there's more whole muscle in them.

Tom talks with such ease about cutting up meat that it's hard to believe he hasn't been doing it forever. Just a few years ago, Tom was in charge of the grocery at Marlow and editing the journal with Anna when he walked passed Cheffie and Andrew outside of Diner one day. They told him they were considering getting an in-house butcher so they could get hanging weight meat from Fleischer's. And he said something like, "That sounds really, really cool." And they said, "Wanna do it?"

He moved in with Josh and Jessica of Fleischer's, lived on their futon with their mastiff Booboo and a giant tortoise. Every morning it was "beef leg, beef leg, beef leg." He began to collect books on the subject like a Navy meat manual from 1945 and watched educational clips on You Tube.

And it has paid off. According to Tom, getting hanging weight (100-180 pound sections) meat is the only way for a restaurant to be able to afford getting grass-fed, local, properly raised meat. There's a lot of flexibility. Tom gets together with Juventino, Sean and Dave, and they can cut any way they want, make stylistic choices that wouldn't be possible if their meat came out of Cryovac. And it's a lot more exciting to cook here. Curing lardo, rendering it, whipping it. Dealing with odds and ends. Says Tom, "Limitations, not infinite possibilities, are what make great, classic cuisine." Agreed.