Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cowbell Restaurant - Creating A New, ProFood Culture

Much has been written of late about a renaissance in butchery. I've seen demonstrations by artisan (and not so artisan) butchers of beef and pork carcasses but friends Dana and Joel of WellPreserved.ca tipped me off about a venison demonstration at Cowbell Restaurant in Toronto, Ontario.

Chef Mark Cutrara was an honored guest at one of my artisan steak tastings and he and I co-hosted a tasting in conjunction City Bites, so I was familiar with his philosophy toward meat. The intimate group on hand this Sunday was in for a bigger treat than learning the art of venison butchery, though: we were introduced to a broader philosophy that Mark and in-house butcher, Ryan Donovan, are introducing to the restaurant scene in Ontario. I am impressed.

The demonstration first. Most of us love to complain about the cost of steaks. I've written before that in a 1,150 lb. beef steer or heifer one typically sees only 80 lbs total of Filet Mignon, New York Strip Loin, Rib-Eye, and Sirloin steaks. Did you know there are only a few pounds of tenderloin (filet mignon) steaks in a 90 lb. deer carcass?

Consider the skirt steak, one of my favorite cuts. The average beef cattle might offer 3 lbs. of skirt steak, total, after aging and trimming. Look at the skirt steak in this deer. Mark spent about 5 minutes trimming this baby, he knows how precious it is.

And this is where Cowbell shines. Perhaps one or two people might be lucky enough to savor one of the two tiny skirt steaks that came from this particular pasture-raised and finished New Zealand Red Deer. Can you imagine walking into a nationally recognized steak house and asking for the skirt steak and having them say, I'm sorry, we only had two and they sold out at 6pm tonight? Well, unless you're there at the right time, you will not have the opportunity to savor this week's harvest of venison skirt steaks at Cowbell.

For someone who appreciates the focus on head to tail eating but thinks we need to move beyond the feel-good, Mark, Ryan, and team don't stop here but can go on to tell you the exact source of the meat, how it was raised, who slaughtered it how and why, and the way they butcher and why.

And herein lies the bigger idea: if we buy, cook, and savor food from different growing regions - whether our own or elsewhere - each item will have it's own signature flavor and texture and will by nature be a scarce resource. One cannot expect to have a filet mignon on demand any more than expecting to catch a sunburn in February. Food has a natural cycle, it will be available as it is available. Depending on the variety, growing region, and husbandry, flavor and texture will also vary. Let us celebrate and savor it as such.


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