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Russell House Tavern

14 Feb

Most amazing selection of house made charcuterie

Valentine’s Day is here, and again Susan and I will acknowledge its existence, but we won’t be buying flowers or going out to dinner.  I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day as it always seemed to be more of a greeting card holiday than anything else.  Susan and I came together eleven years ago now, and when February rolled around the first time for us, she expressed the very same feelings for the 14th day of the second month of the year.  “Everyday is Valentine’s Day” she explains, and last Thursday we shared our own Valentine’s dinner at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square.

Some plans changed at the last-minute for Susan last Thursday night so we decided to take the opportunity to meet in the Square after work for a drink and some appetizers.  I follow Russell House Tavern Executive Chef Michael Scelfo on twitter, and I’d noticed that he had been busy all week preparing some new forcemeats and charcuterie.  With tweets like this, “foie gras, fernet, & duck terrine. country-style and wrapped in bacon @russellhousetav,” Susan and I were very excited.

Everything was amazing.

I arrived at the Russell House early and stopped upstairs at the bar for a drink and some oysters.  Nick was behind the bar and in short order I had a Last Word and six oysters, from Island Creek in Duxbury.  I was introduced to the Last Word, a prohibition era cocktail that has recently made a comeback, at The Russell House and it can’t be beat.  I plan on a full post on the Last Word soon.

Susan's Ozark Heritage Pork Trio with Grits and Sauce Vinegar

Susan had the Ozark Heritage Pork Trio, and it was a tasty plate of perfection.  Served atop grits, the pork loin, belly, and shoulder were prepared in three different manners that complemented each.  My preference was the smoked shoulder, but they were all pretty amazing.  To top it off, I even scored the left-overs for lunch the next day.

Duck Confit

I was going to pick the pork trio as well, but in the interest of sharing, I chose the Crispy Long Island Duck Confit.   It came with a stew of black figs, fresh sage, roasted chestnuts, and pork belly.  The duck confit was done to perfection, falling off the bone as I dug at it with my fork.  The crispiness of the duck skin and the depth of flavor was off the chart good.

Orange Creamsicle

We finished the evening sharing a dessert, an Orange Creamsicle.  A vanilla & orange mousse, with creamy caramel and orange candy on top was the perfect finish to one of the most lovely anti-valentine’s days ever.  Service at Russell House was outstanding, as good as we’ve ever had. We were greeted downstairs by Andrew and shown to our table. Despite the place being full, Steven, our server was efficient, knowledgeable and most helpful.

Remember, Food is Love!





31 Jan

Cochon 555

Chef Matt Jennings and his wife Kate of Farmstead in Providence, RI are heading to the Grand Cochon spectacular at the  Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this coming June after taking first place in the Cochon 555 event in Boston held at the Fairmont Copley Hotel.   Jennings and his team have won the Boston leg of Cochon 555 three years running.  This year he was competing against some of Boston’s best chefs, including Chef Lydia Shire of ScampoLocke-Ober and Towne Stove and Spirits, Chef Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother in Cambridge, Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest in Cambridge, and Chef Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar, also in Cambridge.

Stage lighting being tested prior to the event

Bacon, bacon and more bacon!

Part of Chef Will Gilson's set up

Founder Brady Lowe greeting VIP's

Cochon 555 is a one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event that celebrates and promotes sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.  It brings together  five local chefs, five locally sourced pigs and five wine makers and gives everyone in attendance a chance to sample more pork then they can imagine.  The brain child of Brady Lowe, Founder of Cochon 555 and President & Creative Director of Taste Network, it is his passion for increasing awareness of the sources that support a more natural, sustainable food system that brings it all together.

Brady Lowe speaking to the judges table

Will Gilson's mise en place coming together

Chef Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother checks his prep sheet

Chef Jennings drawing up his signage

Chef Lydia Shire of Scampo shows a student from Johnson & Wales the ropes

Fairmont Copley Executive Sous Chef William Lukas takes bacon out of an oven

In addition to the friendly competition between the five chefs, various local industry heavy weights were on hand to make the evening complete. Island Creek Oysters, Formaggio Kitchen – the South End branch, and Smuttynose Brewery out of New Hampshire showcased the local flavor of the evening, and provided samples and insight to their products on hand.

C.J. of Island Creek Oysters giving an impromptu shucking class

Kurt Gurdal, left, of Formaggio Kitchen explains some cheese

St. Germain was on hand with sparkling wine and strawberries

Wine tastings from West Sonoma Coast Vintners featured several different lovely wines

The evening also featured a butchering competition between Tom Daly of Savenor’s Boston and Rick Lemay of Lemay & Sons Beef in New Hampshire. The event intrigued the curious, inspired the casual and proved bountiful for The Food Project, a local non-profit that has built a national model of engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture since 1991.  Raffle tickets were sold through out the evening, and everything from the butchered hogs, heads included, was awarded to individual winners, and the cash from the ticket sales was donated to The Food Project.

Pigs heads on the table

Rick Lemay explaining gives a tutorial on meatloaf

The main reason for the evening was a celebration of all things swine and the head to head competition between the five local chefs.   Each chef received a 150-175 pound heritage breed hog, and the task at hand was to use it from head to toe and wow the judges, and some 400 plus guests, with succulent morsels to delight their taste buds.

Chef Lydia Shire was presented first to the judges

Blood sausage, or Boudin Noir, was on her menu

Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest had a Large Black Pig, a heritage breed, as her swine

Mary explaining her offerings to the judges table

Chef Will Gilson of Garden at the Cellar presented complete in pig head

Judging was a serious affair

Chef Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother presented Rocky Mountain Oysters to the judges

Chef Matt Jennings was last to present, his team putting the final touches on his plate

Chef Jennings explaining his method of working with locally sourced products

Chef Jennings pièce de résistance was a pigs head and a bottle of maple syurp

In honor of his canadian heritage

Judges Kurt Gurdal, of Formaggio Kitchen, left, and Michael Scelfo, of Russell House Tavern

Although judging was complete and ballots were being counted, the eating didn’t stop there.  In the main ballroom, Chef Robert Grant of The Butcher Shop prepared Porcelet de lait from St. Canut Farms & D’Artagnanr., and the piglets were wheeled onto the main floor for everyone to share “Family Meal” style.

Chef Grant with the Porcelet de lait

Chef Tiffani Faison, of Top Chef season one fame, kisses the piglet

As the crowd slowly slipped into a porcine coma, the Chefs mingled and shared their experiences and wisdom with the gathered swine aficionados.

Chef Mary Dumont with Bacon Cotton Candy

Chef Lydia Shire sharing some wisdom with students from Johnson & Wales

Pig Bling was everywhere

For some, these Johnson & Wales student volunteers, the eating continued

In the end, judges votes counted, and the five chefs assembled on stage with cochon555 founder Brady Lowe and were toasted by the crowd for their passion and love of the hog.

Brady Lowe, left, toasting the chefs

And for the third year in a row, Chef Matt Jennings of Farmstead came out as Top Hog, though I think there were winners everywhere you looked.

Brady Lowe, left, announcing the three-pete winner, Chef Matt Jennings

Chef Jennings gives a shout out to his team

And walked away with the hardware and a date in Aspen

Cochon 555 moves on from Boston to Seattle, and Chef Jennings will be back at Farmstead serving up brand of goodness until a date in Aspen rolls around.

Remember, Food is Love!