2015: The Year of Meat
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, let's just say, this is a preview of the year ahead...my Year of Meat. Oh sure, I've written about America's best butcher, visited a pioneering lamb rancher, and begged my way into a restaurant kitchen, only to find headcheese on the day's prep list. And a handful of times, I had the opportunity to judge Cochon555 and the American Lamb Jam competitions. As my friend Rocky says, "This isn't my first rodeo."
Throughout my culinary explorations, meat has played a significant role. But somewhere, lurking under the surface, I wanted more. I've taken a scattershot approach, dabbling here and there, and it left me dissatisfied.
What was the missing element?
I recently read a blog by a woman named Beautiful Existence. Her approach: dedicate yourself to one organization for a year. Learn all you can. This year, she teamed up with outdoor outfitter REI--orienteering, paddle boarding, and even hang gliding, exploring all they have to offer. I immediately took to the idea, and kicked around several options. What if...I dedicated myself to a single topic, for an entire year? I wanted license to explore, probe deeper, and to view a subject from multiple angles. I kicked around everything from photography to film making...and even the subject of cakes.
Coincidence? Fate? Divine intervention? Call it what you will, but I recently met two guys who sealed the deal for my Year of Meat.
A chance encounter on a chat forum, I met food writer and charcuterie enthusiast Jason Price. We met for coffee, and he broke out an artist palate full of charcuterie he made himself. Talk about an attention grabber! Not long after we met, he flew to Napa for a 2 week stage at the acclaimed Fatted Calf. Jason also writes a couple columns for Eater.com, including the Carnivore's Dilemma, exploring restaurants going beyond the usual steak and burger fare. Whether you're a local or not, there's always a teachable moment in his writing and I put a high value on that.
Exploring meat from another perspective is California-based chef, Jeffrey Weiss. I met Weiss when he was in town for an event sponsored by Monterey tourism. We made arrangements to talk before the event, and let's just say...the conversation added fueled the fire. (More on that later.) Shortly after our meeting, I got a copy of his book, Charcuteria, the Soul of Spain, and that sealed the deal. Lush photos, a conversational approach to the writing that feels like you've got a coach in the room, and the vivid flavors of Spain with their Moorish and spice trade flavor profiles? Bring it on!
You may notice in the photo above, the top book is not meat-focused. It's a new release by Amanda Palmer, based on her wildly famous TED talk, The Art of Asking. A fan of hers on Twitter sent it to me in a pay-it-forward gesture, and the timing could not be more perfect.
The past few months I've been deliberately asking for help. I learn best from other people and have tapped friends for a lesson in their area of expertise. The mission: Teach what you know. So I put out a request on Facebook. I would like to learn how to make cakes. I've never made an apple pie. I'd like to go crabbing. Can someone show me how to make pasta? Who knew that would have such a remarkable payoff? Meaningful bonding time, in the form of a teachable moment. Carol invited me over, and we spent the next 10 hours making cakes, exploring the science of baking, and she even sent me home with a notebook filled with excerpts from her favorite baking books. Linda showed me how to make pasta, carefully guiding me on the feel of the dough--which is far more important than the recipe. We made pasta cut on a string guitarra brought from Italy, and on an electric-powered machine, comparing the difference in texture. Ravioli filled with greens, ricotta, parmesan, and a raw egg yolk? Stunning. Next week I have a date to eat oysters with the man Saveur magazine calls "America's disciple of flavor."
So it's like that.
2015 is my Year of Meat. And I'll be asking for help along the way. Got a farmer, butcher, chef, or other meat-focused guru I need to know? Send 'em my way. I'm ready to learn, and game for anything.
Ah, one last thing. Please don't think a girl can live on meat alone. The overarching idea behind the coming year is exploration and pushing boundaries. Plans are in the works for that as well, and I'll be documenting it here. The Art of Asking? Teach what you know? Let's do this!