You really can’t do a series of presentations on pork without including one on barbecue. So it was at Pork Summit 2013, the event held last weekend for a couple dozen chefs and a handful of trade press editors at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif.
The challenge with barbecue, of course, is deciding on the focus on the presentation. Barbecue is an intensely personal style of food preparation, with regionality and cultural influences both impacting what form barbecue takes. Ingeniously, the National Pork Board, which sponsored the event, didn’t try to hone in on one style. Instead, it challenged four chefs to define barbecue based on the unique attributes of four regions: Mid-Atlantic, Southern, Northern California and Southeast Asia.
The session was called Indigneous Barbecue, and the four selected chefs were asked to make use of local ingredients and, in some cases, cooking equipment from a particular time period to help them “create your own interpretation of barbecue for your region and sense of place,” in the words of NPB’s Stephen Gerike. At the end of the day, we all got to sample their efforts at a special dinner.
The attendees also got a little bit of the history of barbecue from CIA Instructor Tucker Bunch, who explained that the cooking style—basically a method of cooking animals slowly over an open fire—dates back to 1647. The idea itself, of course, is much older than that.
The framework of barbecue is this: a smoke flavoring, a vinegar-based sauce, the use of sweetener to varying degrees and the use of spices to varying degrees. It started on the Eastern Seaboard and picked up various cultural and ingredient influences as settlers moved west.
“Local resources certainly beget the cuisine,” Bunch said.
Stephen Barber, the chef at Farmstead, a St. Helena restaurant affiliated with Long Meadow Ranch, took a stab at Northern California barbecue. His “smoke” came from the wood of the madrone tree, and his ingredients included bronze fennel, which grows in abundance in the area, dried New Mexico chilies and a sauce made with blackberry vinegar, dried figs, blackberries, chilies, honey, sea water and wild onions. He prepared his pork by using a barbecue pit.
John Fink, chef-owner of The Whole Beast in San Francisco, was challenged with trying to replicate barbecue from the mid-Atlantic region in pre-Revolutionary times. Accordingly, he used applewood for his “smoke”, and his barbecue ingredients included applesauce; hare cider; fish peppers, and a gastrique made from apple cider, hard cider and apple juice. His method of cooking involved building a chimney similar to what would have been found in Colonial-era homes.
Taylor Bowen Ricketts, chef-owner of Delta Bistro in Greenwood, Miss., used pecan wood as the “smoke” for her take on Southern barbecue. Ingredients included scuppernong jelly (scuppernong is a variety of muscadine grape), sweet potato butter, pecans and a brine of water, moonshine, honey and sea salt. She prepared her pork in a drum-style barbecue.
Robert Danhi, a chef and instructor who specializes in Southeast Asian cuisine, used a wide variety of ingredients —18 in all—to create a Balinese barbecued pork, which was tied up and roasted rotisserie-style, using mangrove wood, which is indigenous to Indonesia.
It was an interesting—and tasty—exercise, and it made me think. What other types of ubiquitous foods can chefs and operators take and make “their own” through the use of local ingredients, or even long-abandoned cooking methods? It could take the idea of sustainability to a new level.