Pork face pancetta, country fried pig’s ear, and fried chicken in beef tallow are raising far more interest than eyebrows these days at Portland’s Country Cat Dinner House and Bar.
Adam Sappington, chef, owner, and butcher, has crafted the entire menu around the whole animal, and in the process has established himself as one of the leading butchering chefs in the country.
Flashback a generation or two and nose to tail cooking described a necessarily frugal, no-waste relationship with food.
Now a choice fueled by heightened eco-awareness and a drive toward local, sustainable, and responsibly grown food, chefs like Sappington are redefining it with gastronomic gusto and innovation.
“It’s caught on like wildfire,” says Phyllis Ann Marshall, president of Food Power, an industry consultant. “It’s become a sort of a fad, the innovative chefs’ movement that says they’re not doing the norm. They’re inventing new things all the time,” she explains, obviously in sync with Sappington’s style.
Consumed by the art of butchery, Sappington taught himself and put it to task during his early years at Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant where he developed and ran the whole animal program.
A few cold calls to ranchers and he found he could bring in whole animals—lamb, pig, chicken, cattle—at 75 percent of the cost of a pre-butchered animal.
Twelve years later, he’s still at it. He buys animals directly from the ranch, cutting out all middlemen, and tracking everything—the farmer, what the animal’s fed, how it’s raised, and so forth.
Sappington does all of the butchering on site, and says, “We make everything in house except the salt and pepper.”
Every Wednesday, Sappington fabricates and cures an entire cow and pig, and customers can sit at the bar of the open kitchen and watch him butcher a quarter cow.
“They’re fascinated,” he says. “People will sit and watch me take it down.”
A lamb arrives every Thursday and chicken comes in three times a week because of the volume the restaurant goes through. Sappington and his staff bone 400 pounds of chicken each week. “It’s a big process,” he says, but the fried chicken in beef tallow is “fried chicken above and beyond. It will change your life.”
Driven by a passion for butchery that’s downright contagious, Sappington makes what he does everyday an education for anyone—customer or staff member—who wants to learn.
He’s reviving the art of butchery not only by demonstration but by exposing others to new cuts and flavors. He’s even started teaching classes on sustainability and butchery at places like the Portland Meat Collective and the French Culinary Institute.
Most recently, and perhaps most characteristic of both his skill and playful ingenuity, Sappington butchered a hog face for an audience of chefs and foodservice professionals at this year’s Pork Summit, hosted by the National Pork Board at the Culinary Institute of America in California’s Napa Valley. One of the event’s celebrated chefs, Sappington put on quite a show in this first step of preparing Pig Face Scrapple, something he calls “a novelty item and a crazy huge seller.” It also happens to be one of those items that demonstrate the many options of the art of butchery.
The butchering itself may glean the most attention, but for Sappington it’s more about a broadening consciousness.
“You can still have these old world traditions. It can still be done,” he says. “Put it into a restaurant setting and it works. Fueled by ideas, creative cooks are [butchering’s] body and soul. Conscious minded purchasing and the fabrication of food—beef or carrot—it doesn’t matter. People are finally catching up with this.”
By Lori Zanteson