Going Whole Hog with Food & Wine's "Best New Chef"
In the chef world, one of the most anticipated events...is the announcement of Food & Wine's "Best New Chefs." No doubt, this coveted accolade...can launch your career into the stratosphere.
In the July issue of Food & Wine, Seattle's own Matt Dillon claimed his space among "America's Best New Chefs."
Dining at Matt's tiny Sitka & Spruce restaurant is a real treat. The daily changing menu is reflected on a simple chalkboard. Here, small plates couple fine dining tastes with homespun presentations. Highbrow food...without the attitude.
What could be better?
This spring I received an e-mail...Underground Dining at the Farm: Come to the island and join us for a whole hog dinner.
Visions of Fergus Henderson's "Nose To Tail Dining"...including everything in between, passed through my mind. (Ewww!) My friend Shango was totally into the idea...and promised to eat everything I wouldn't, so I booked our space.
On a dreary spring day, we took the ferry over. This undisclosed location is along an equally unmarked drive...that threatens to be overtaken by blackberry bushes. We arrived at the farm and were instantly greeted with a hug...and a glass of wine.
I've been to dinner at the farm many times...and it always conjures up images of Sunday dinners with a big Italian family. The food is amazing, the guest list is kept tight...and I never fail to meet the most fascinating people (from professional bee keepers to Discovery Channel producers.)
On this day, I was surprised and delighted to find my buddy Matt in the kitchen. Matt trained under The Herbfarm's legendary Jerry Traunfeld (National Geographic named The Herbfarm the #1 dining destination in America.) Not to mention...Matt's good friend, Jeremy Faber, is a forager who supplies the local restaurants and farmer's markets with elusive wild finds. Clearly Matt's keeping some good company!
What impresses me the most...is Matt's respect for the food. His goal is to truly honor each ingredient.
One of the first times I met Matt, his restaurant was closed and I'd stopped by for coffee. We lingered over frittata and steaming hot mugs of locally roasted espresso. His plan for the day...was to head over to the island...and slaughter a pig.
I was intrigued.
Matt launched into a story about the first time he killed a pig. As he worked up the courage, he looked the pig straight in the eye. Over and over again, he told the pig, "I'm going to honor your life...and created beautiful food with you." As Matt tells it, before he did the deed, he talked with that pig for over an hour.
To this day, when pork is on the menu, he prefers to kill the pig himself.
Needless to say, I was truly please to see Matt as our guest chef for the Whole Hog dinner....
At the farm, communal dining occurs in the open kitchen...and begins with a conversation. The premise is simple: here, with the exception of sugar, salt, wine, and flour, everything is grown on the farm. Butter is churned from fresh cow's milk, honey sweetens home made ricotta, and meats are raised on an all organic diet.
For our dinner, Matt's goal was to serve 20 people from one...and only one pig. Working from just one pig means there wasn't time to cure meat, so instead of charcuterie, we were treated with chichirones and rillets. As Matt explained, the timing also had to be just so, because the heart and the liver are enjoyed best just after the kill.
Dinner commenced with a final warning, "Don't get greedy with the tongue...there was only one!"
What can I say?
It was an exquisite dinner.
Matt is truly gifted...and he's such an amazing guy...I couldn't be happier for him. Congrats, Matt!