EDMONTON — The educational sessions at the 50th Anniversary National Conference of the Canadian Culinary Federation (CCFCC) got off of to a strong start last week, with the initial two packed sessions running overtime.
In-house charcuterie and whole-animal cooking were the concurrent themes of the initial workshops. The founders of Calgary’s three-year-old Charcut Roast House restaurant, Connie DeSousa and John Jackson, presented a fresh meat cutting and cooking demonstration and a description of their operations, which include a separate facility for animal slaughter, butchery, food prep and cooking on the restaurant site. “Something seems to be happening in foodservice — over the last five years charcuterie has emerged more as both the chef’s and the customers’ favourites,” Jackson said. “Charcuterie is becoming a favourite for its flavour, its aroma and its good health and environmental aspects. Knowing the source of the product is also important.”
Responding to several questions from the floor, DeSousa said: “Our animals are always young pigs, for example at seven to eight months, full of energy, good health and with smiles on their faces.” She added: “We display pig heads in our meat display case, and customers comment on the smiles.”
Several Charcut products were presented for tasting by the audience, including stuffed sheep head sliced meats. The preparation includes light cooking the entire sheep’s head, then removing and stripping the bone, while keeping the face skin with about a half-inch layer of fat intact. The removed meat is blended with shoulder meat and then stuffed into the head skin, with visible chunks of fat and appropriate nuts. Finished-cooked once more, the head is ready for display and hand slicing. Customers have been known to order a whole head or half head for a group and have it hand carved at the table. “We first offered this as a one-time special shortly after we opened, planning for one week only. It’s still on the menu. We display the unsliced sheep’s head in our meat case and customers always ask about it,” DeSousa said
Meanwhile, the chefs at Toronto’s Richmond Station restaurant envisions whole animal cookery as a big trend, citing the recent England posting of the 2013 World’s Top 10 restaurants, all of which offered whole-animal cookery. Richmond’s Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan began the morning session with a butchery demonstration. They broke down an entire lamb carcass and described how each part fits into their menu. They also butcher beef, pork and deer regularly.
Heinrich and Donovan were frank in sharing vital operational data comparing their three-year business results with industry standards. Responding to the question, is cooking this way more expensive? they broke down the costs and summarized the results, comparing industry norms versus their results. They shared the following: normal cost of goods 30 per cent versus their cost of goods 27 per cent; cost of labour 30 per cent versus 30 per cent; operating expenses 25 per cent versus 22 per cent; profit 15 per cent versus 21 per cent. “How is this possible?” Donovan asked. He cited many factors: “Our food costs are more stable, local source agreements aren’t subject as much to market fluctuations, our ingredients are better, we have far less waste, [and] everything gets used.” He added: “And, our customer count goes up, satisfied customers come back with their friends, and our restaurant is fuller. This means our fixed cost, rent, real estate, et cetera are spread over a larger input, helping our bottom line.” More customers also means staff is happier, he commented, and they perform better.