Something magical happens when a group of people who would otherwise be considered “competitors,” get together for a common cause. That, in my humble opinion, is the essence of Chefs Collaborative.
Chefs Collaborative brings together chefs from different restaurants, resorts, schools, hotels, and private homes to change menus in such a profound way that they change lives. The mission of Chefs Collaborative is to inspire, educate, and celebrate chefs and food professionals to build a better food system. And that starts with sustainable practices. Recognizing that good food begins with unpolluted air, land and water, the collaborative encourages their chef members to focus their menus on sustainable farming and fishing, as well as humane animal husbandry . . .which was the theme behind the Meat Matters tasting, recently hosted at M.A.D.E. Restaurant.
Now you don’t have to ask us twice if we’d like to buy tickets to an event that features Sarasota’s finest restaurants. We’re talking Michael’s on East, Indigenous, Mattison’s, Louies Modern, The Cottage, Drunken Poet Café and, of course, M.A.D.E. Each of these restaurants featured tastings of one of the proteins from Niman Ranch, High Plains Bison, and Joyce Farms, all provided to the Collaborative by the event’s Presenting Sponsor: Turtle Beach Natural Foodservice. Farm fresh vegetables were provided by the folks at Geraldson Farms.
Like their Trash Fish Dinners, Chef Collaborative events, like Meat Matters are not your standard “food fest.” You could call them “The Most Delicious Educational Experiences Ever Presented.” And you’d be right! For this evening, M.A.D.E. Restaurant set up carving/serving stations throughout the restaurant, spilling out onto the patio. Live music provided a nice backdrop as guests went from station to station, tasting the amazing meat dishes, and discussing the preparation with the various award-winning Chefs.
Local James Beard Awards nominee, Chef Steven Phelps, is the local spokesman for Chefs Collaborative, so he, along with Tracy Walsh Freeman, Editor of Edible Sarasota, took to the mic to introduce the ranchers and farmers whose products we enjoyed that evening. Each of these ranchers provided a video presentation of their farms and ranches, which so clearly illustrated the difference between humane animal husbandry and conventional ranching that it was impossible not to understand the difference. The most jaw dropping for me were the photos of a commercial pig farm, which showed huge enclosed buildings and not a single pig in sight because they are born, raised and slaughtered in the same facility. But when Joyce Farms showed their ranch, we saw fields of pigs and piglets frolicking through the meadows. They also showed small open air “pigloos (my word) where sows were free to make comfortable nests for birthing their piglets, freeing them to walk out of the “pigloo” for water or food, leaving the piglets hidden from the elements.
The same was clear with bison ranching, which, thanks to human animal husbandry, has made a comeback off the endangered species list. Because bison/buffalo meat is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol than beef, pork, and chicken, more and more people are turning to bison as a healthier dietary alternative. Learning more about the free range farming at High Plains Bison ranches was a true education for me. I had spent part of my childhood in North Dakota, where bison are a common sight. The representative from High Plain Bison showed videos of their free range bison, who are pretty much left to their natural proclivities, except during calving and pregnancy tests. “You have to be careful with bison, because they will hold a grudge,” he explained. “Once you finish your pregnancy test on a bison, don’t ever turn your back on her, because she IS going to head butt you!” As the largest mammal in North America, the bison deserve our respect, as do the ranchers who raise them. After all, bison can run up to 40 mph, and they’ve been known to gang up on anyone who ticks them off, so any rancher willing to risk life and limb to give me a healthier protein choice has my undying admiration. After all, you never hear of kids sneaking out at night to go ‘bison tipping.’ Just saying!
So let me take you on a little tour of what we tasted at Meat Matters. I have to start with our host, Chef Mark Woodruff of M.A.D.E. Mark presented short ribs that were sous vide for two days before he charred the exterior on the grill. He served these fall-in-love-fall-off-the-bone beef ribs with a natural jus that was delicious beyond description. Both Mart and I snuck back for seconds, thirds and more of these amazing short ribs.
Stationed next to Mark, was the talented Chefs from Drunken Poet, who served up Asian Style Lamb Belly two ways. A spicy version, and a sweet version, which is shown in the photo above. We loved the smoky char on the spicy version, but the photo just didn’t do it justice. The sweet version with the pomegranate seeds was a delight. Tasting one, and then the other showed the true talents of the Chef. We’ve never had anything but great meals at Drunken Poet. (Fyi . . . the chef is never drunk. There must have been a poet there one day, but we’ve never seen him/her!)
Louies Modern took up a private room at the restaurant, which was great for anyone who wanted to sit at a table indoors. Their Achiote BBQ Chicken was wrapped in banana leaves, with diced potatoes, Guajillo onions, carrots cooked alongside the chicken, which resulted in a comfort food taste that I could really get into. The chicken was so amazingly tender and juicy, with a wonderful smoky peppery flavor from the achiote.
The Cottage Chef Evan Gastman was eager to share his excitement over the sous vide egg he cooked on-site at Meat Matters. Presenting a pho-style dish of Ramen, Shoyu and Green Tea Noodles with ,Niman Ranch Brisket, sous vide egg and a green tea broth, Mart and I decided to sip/slurp up the soup before delving into the brisket. We needed a bigger fork in order to corral all the goodness in this dish, again likening it to a comfort food I’d certainly enjoy in cool weather.
Whenever we see Michael’s on East’s chef Jamil Pineda behind a carving station, we know we’re in for a treat. At Meat Matters, Chef Pineda presented his Puerco Manchamanteles, consisting of pork belly, Oaxaca red mole, butternut squash and purple potato hash, topped with almonds and cilantro. Manchamanteles has a stew-like flavor that requires numerous steps to make, resulting in a masterful combination of textures and sweet, salty and spicy flavors showcased from its rustic ingredients.
Mattison’s 41 was up to the challenge of presenting two proteins for our tasting pleasure, the first being a Bison Tenderloin that nothing could have been added to improve the taste. It was singularly spectacular in taste and is now Mart’s favorite cut of meat. Mattison’s Pork Tomahawk featured a shallot demi glaze, fig mustard and bacon jam. You read that right . . . fig mustard and bacon jam! The combination was every bit at flavorful as you’d expect, with both dishes being something Mattison’s should probably add to their regular menu.
You can’t have a local Chef Collaborative event with our local representative and two-time James Beard Award nominee Steven Phelps from Indigenous. Seriously, you just can’t. Chef Phelp’s tastings are always unique and on-point. Mart brought me a tasting from Indigenous’ carving station, and within one bite, I turned to him and said, “This has to be from Chef Steve Phelps!” Many of us have come to expect the unexpected from Chef Phelp’s kitchen, so whenever I bite into something a little complex, but simple. . . well, oxymoron or not, I know who made it. Chef Phelps’ Braised Lamb Shoulder Pita featured a Loubeih Sauce, (which is essentially green beans in oil,) goat feta cheese, pickled peppers and onion lamb bacon.
Now, for all our vegetarian and vegan friends reading this blog, I understand that a post featuring meat consumption may offend you. But the purpose of Meat Matters was to show carnivores, like Mart and myself, that animals can be raised humanly… while being protected from natural predators, illness and environmental toxins before becoming a food source.
My take from the Meat Matters event is the human animal husbandry results in animals that are treated better, resulting in meat that tastes better. Herds are raised and protected to a degree not seen for decades, resulting in endangered species being brought back to sustainable numbers by hard working ranchers and farmers who truly care about the quality of life for their animals. Because, at the end of the day, people will eat meat, so isn’t it better that everyone understands how much Meat Matters? It truly does.