When buying a plastic-wrapped pack of neatly portioned pork chops at the grocery store, it's easy to forget that they came from a real live pig. The mysterious transformation from animal into meat isn't something most people think about much, but chef Chad Colby's pork-centric butchering demonstrations and family-style dinners at Mozza's Scuola Di Pizza give good reasons to consider the pig.
Every two weeks, the 30-year-old chef receives a whole dressed hog -- cleaned, gutted and split in two, but complete with head, feet and skin -- from Heritage Foods USA, a provider of humanely raised meat. Colby then breaks down each half-pig by hand and uses it as the basis for a communal dinner that serves 28 people and utilizes every part of the animal, including the offal.
Pig enthusiasts can witness the butchering process over pizza every other Tuesday; the dinners are held every Saturday.
For Colby, who is from Los Angeles and has cooked in local kitchens such as Campanile and AOC as well as in Europe, the inspiration for the demos and dinners came from his interest in butchery and his reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, which takes a hard look at industrial meat processing.
"Working with large amounts of food, there's a bit of a lost understanding of what the food is, especially when it comes prepackaged," Colby said in an interview at the restaurant. He added, "I just like the idea of buying a whole animal, breaking it down, using the whole thing and buying another animal."
That's not to say Colby's motivations are political -- the chef is quick to point out that making a good meal is his first priority. In this case, the happiest pigs also happen to be the tastiest ones.
"I always cook to what tastes great," Colby said. "With pork, the sustainably raised animals, the ones that have an ethical meaning to them, are a superior product. So it's really a no-brainer in that sense to always use a heritage-bred, humanely raise animal."
Colby approaches the task of cooking with every part of the hog as something of an artistic challenge.
"We want to showcase how much the flavor of pork can vary," he said. "We want each course to be unique and strikingly different from the previous course, and I think pork gives me that canvas more than any other animal."
Making the most of each hog is also good business: Less waste means more profit. And as Colby put it, "One thing I think is hugely important in sustainability is that the restaurant is sustained as well."
Colby's butchery classes show how the process begins. Attendees sit opposite the chef at a large kitchen island. While they snack on pizza from the Mozza2Go menu, Colby deftly separates whole muscles from skin, fat and sinew, a technique known as seam butchery that is more commonly practiced in Europe. The chef explains his procedure, answers questions, and describes how different cuts might be cooked or cured.
He also saves what he calls "butcher's snacks," a few choice cuts that he grills simply at the end of class and passes around to show off the distinct flavors and textures of, say, a shoulder chop, a piece of belly, the hanger steak and the eye of round.
The Saturday dinners make use of the rest of the pork, and Colby applies an array of cooking methods depending on the cut at hand. Terrines and pâté begin the meal. The trotters are simmered with corona beans, adding flavor and body to the cooking liquid. The shoulder is roasted, bone in and skin on, for 10 hours until meltingly tender. Leg meat goes into a Bolognese-style ragu, served with a Parmesan soufflé. Fat is rendered to confit the ribs as well as ground into sausage.
All told, Colby estimates that only about five ounces of scraps don't get cooked in some manner -- this from a 300-pound live-weight pig. That's quite an accomplishment, but not the most important one.
"I love seeing clean plates," Colby said. "I'm not making food to be interesting -- I'm making food to be delicious."
Mozza2Go and Scuola Di Pizza
6610 Melrose Ave., 323-297-1130
More in Sustainable Food:
Lindy & Grundy Prepare for Their First Thanksgiving
At the Market with Library Bar's Matt Biancanello
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