The Charlottesville 29

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Tag: Jose De Brito

Jose de Brito Returns to Charlottesville

Fleurie sauce

Photo by Tom McGovern

Though the origin of Charlottesville’s nickname “The Hook” is uncertain, one theory is that the city’s allure hooks roving residents to return. Not even world class chefs, it seems, can resist its charms.

Jose de Brito has returned to Charlottesville. Again.

De Brito first left Charlottesville in 2016, after helping The Alley Light earn a James Beard semifinalist nod for Best New Restaurant in the country. After a year in Washington, Virginia at The Inn at Little Washington, he returned to Charlottesville in 2017 to head the kitchen at Fleurie. In 2018, it was back to Washington for a stint at Foster Harris House. And now, he is home again, in Charlottesville.

What brought de Brito back this time? Brian Helleberg, owner of Fleurie and Petit Pois, who contacted de Brito about rejoining the team after pastry chef Serge Torres’ departure earlier this year.

Given de Brito’s great respect for Helleberg, he of course listened. “I have known Brian for 18 years,” said de Brito. “We share the same love of cooking, and he can get as excited as I can in front of a plate of food – a rare quality in my eye.” De Brito especially credits Helleberg for his commitment to buying from local farmers “quietly and extensively . . . long before it was marketable.”

Officially, de Brito will be Pastry Chef for Fleurie and Petit Pois, but his impact will extend further, as we will be charged with helping both restaurants excel and improve. “Just like the first time Chef José returned to us, he’ll be re-joining a better team, restaurants and infrastructure than when he left,” says Helleberg. “As we add him as pastry chef and a catalyst of our culinary ecosystem, I’m looking forward to seeing him and the businesses thrive.”

Perhaps most exciting for de Brito’s fans is that he will be responsible for a new series of Sunday dinners at Fleurie, each with a different theme. Details to come.

Welcome back, Jose.

Thanking the Pig: Why Fleurie’s “Autumn Olive Farms’ Heritage Pork, Prepared Nose to Tail” is the 2018 Dish of the Year

Autumn Olive Farms is a magical place. Hundreds of pigs roam wherever they like on a ninety acre farm and a seventeen acre forest of oaks, hickories, wild cherry trees, black walnuts, hackberries, and, of course, Autumn olives. Stand near the middle of the forest and, above birds chirping and the gentle ruffle of leaves, you will hear the sound of nuts giving way to the jaws of some of the happiest pigs on earth.

The pigs live under the care of Clay and Linda Trainum, who began raising them at the farm in 2010. Not long before that, the Trainums had actually stopped eating pork altogether after seeing videos of the treatment of mass-produced pigs. At their spacious farm near Waynseboro, Virginia, the Trainums were determined to do things differently. “Our pigs live their lives in an environment of things that bring them satisfaction and pleasure, like exposure to the warmth of sunlight, mud, and rooting for the underground forages they love,” says Clay Trainum. “Foraging on green vegetation, nuts, and fruits is deeply ingrained in their DNA, and they derive great pleasure from doing so.”

Rooting

Caring properly for hundreds of roaming pigs is hard work: building triangular “houses” throughout the farm for their shelter, maintaining good bedding, sustaining fields with diverse forages for year round ground cover, and catching pigs when it’s time to move them from one field to another. Then there is the constant fight against predators that lurk beyond the farm’s edges. “Battling predators is difficult as it takes place when I should be sleeping!” says Trainum.

While it would be easier to confine the pigs to a pen, the labor needed for their freedom is worthwhile. Allowing the pigs to roam on Autumn Olive’s eco-rich farm and forest is not just good for the pigs, the Trainums say, it is also key to the quality of the pigs’ meat. As the pigs root under the ground for nuts, insects, fruits, seeds and plants, they literally eat soil, and the minerals and nutrients the soil contains. The Trainums liken this to the wine concept terroir. Like grapes, the pigs pull up from the ground the unique attributes of the Shenandoah Valley farm.

The impact of nutrition and wellness on meat quality, it turns out, is not just a feel good story. “Nutrition impacts meat quality,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hines, Swine Specialist at Penn State University. “And, animals that are abused or not treated well will generally have poor meat production, both in quantity and quality.”

Whatever the reason, the Trainums’ products are beloved by chefs. “Love, passion, attention to detail, ingenuity, intelligence, organization, reliability, good morals, and good people,” says The Dabney’s Jeremiah Langhorne, a 2018 James Beard Award winner. “If you apply those ideas to raising and selling heritage pork, you’ll understand why they are the best.” Langhorne is not alone in his adoration. Follow Autumn Olive Farms’ Instagram feed and you will see photograph after photograph of the wonders chefs create with Autumn Olive Farms pork. While I have tasted many such creations, never have I encountered a dish that better honors Autumn Olive Farms’ pigs than one I had this year at Fleurie, in Charlottesville, Virginia. At Fleurie, the same respect that the Trainums accord their pigs in life chef Jose de Brito accords them in death.

At Fleurie the same respect that the Trainums accord their pigs in life chef Jose de Brito accords them in death.

Fleurie plating

Photo by Tom McGovern

Nose to Tail Eating

One cause of the mass production methods the Trainums despise is that so many meat consumers refuse to eat most of a pig. Think about meat displays at a supermarket. Every day they are filled with the same familiar cuts: chops, loin, ribs, and ham. And yet, these cuts comprise just a fraction of a pig. Where do the remaining parts go? You rarely see them because demand for them is so small.

Even the Trainums are not immune to the effects of this. One might think that with a product as extraordinary as the Trainums’, consumers would want it all. Not so. “All parts of the pig can be utilized for food,” says Trainum, “but not enough people choose to consume all parts.” This can leave the Trainums with excess undesired parts like shanks, heads, feet, hard fat, leaf fat, and skin. “We are challenged to sell all parts in ratios that balance out the whole pig,” says Trainum.

The market’s response to this has been to make more pigs. Find other uses for parts humans won’t eat, and make more pigs to produce more parts that they will eat.

But, there’s another possible response. And, that response is at the heart of the story of the 2018 Dish of the Year. Instead of supply changing to meet consumers’ demand, what if consumers were to change what they demand? Many people assume that they would not enjoy eating certain pig parts simply because of the sound of them. But, what if they were to discover that they really would enjoy those parts? Rather than making more pigs to eat, we could just eat more of each pig.

The Origin

The story begins with a decision by Fleurie owner Brian Helleberg to change how he purchases Autumn Olive Farms pork. To align with customers’ demand, restaurants typically place meat orders by the cut: rib-eye steaks, pork chops, a leg of lamb, etc. But, Helleberg believes so strongly in what the Trainums are doing that he began purchasing entire sides of their pigs, which Fleurie’s kitchen staff breaks down in house, from nose to tail. “I’ve visited the pigs at Autumn Olive, and I have always observed them growing whole,” says Helleberg. “So it makes for the most straightforward transaction with the farm if we purchase it whole and add the value in-house. That leaves the farmers more time to do what they do best.”

That said, there are reasons so few restaurants buy entire carcasses at a time. “As the Chef de Cuisine, getting an entire pig seems fun,” says de Brito, “but it is not.” The challenges are many: moving and storing the carcass, butchering it, selling it, and, ultimately, making money with it. “It requires time and serious planning,” de Brito says.

The parts easiest for the restaurant to sell are chops. Fleurie’s beautiful double chops are so popular that a whole rack can sell out in a night. Ok, now what? The rack is gone, but 80% of the carcass remains. De Brito initially set out to work through the pig’s less-desired, primal parts one by one, introducing nightly specials from vintage types of cooking, like pig feet terrine, confit of pork galantine, and paupiettes. Unfortunately, the “strange-name preparations,” as de Brito calls them, did not sell well.

So de Brito looked for another outlet: the tasting menu. “The people who order the tasting menu usually just put themselves in the hands of the kitchen,” says de Brito. On top of that, the number of Fleurie regulars who order the tasting menu had been increasing. “I had the numbers and a better audience,” says de Brito. “Nose to Tail was finally possible!”

Challenges remained, though. Most significantly: planning the right percentage of servings among a pig’s various parts. Like the Trainums at the farm, how would the restaurant avoid having too much pork belly left after it runs out of loin? De Brito’s solution was twofold. First, he would extend the parts’ shelf life with preservation methods of cooking, so he could have parts available as needed. Second, instead of the standard approach of featuring just one cut of meat on a dish, he would create a dish for the tasting menu with many parts of the pig all on one plate. This would also allow de Brito some flexibility in how to describe the dish on the menu, so “strange-names” would not deter diners. De Brito remembered a lesson from his time at The Alley Light when a delicious crispy crepe filled with pork head and feet did not sell. After de Brito changed the menu description from “pork head and feet” to “braised pork,” it suddenly became a best-seller. “People were moaning over it,” de Brito says. If De Brito were to create a dish at Fleurie incorporating many parts of a pig, he thought, it would help to have a similarly vague – but accurate – description. Thus, “Autumn Olive Farms’ Heritage Pork, Prepared Nose to Tail” was born.

The Creation

The great effort required to make “Autumn Olive Farms’ Heritage Pork, Prepared Nose to Tail” is a tribute to the pigs of Autumn Olive Farms and their caretakers. Behold what goes into one single line item on the menu – the fourth course of Fleurie’s tasting menu.

First, De Brito and his team carry the carcass inside the restaurant.

Pig arrival

Next they break down the carcass, a four-hour process.

PIG OPERATION TABLE

Pig Post-surgery

Once the carcass is broken down, the noble parts are separated from the rest. Noble parts are rack, loin, half of the shoulder, ham, and belly. The remaining, primal parts include skin, feet, head, soft fat, hard fat, the other half of the shoulder, kidney, and liver. The noble parts go through an old fashioned French method of preserving meat, petit salé. First, the meat receives thirty-six hours in a brine as salty as seawater, with sugar, bay leaf, thyme, clove, and black peppercorn. Next, the meat is de-brined for twenty-four hours in clean water. These processes tenderize the meat and give it a slight briny flavor and, when cooked, a beautiful rosy color. They also keep the meat fresh for up to five weeks, or until the next pig arrives.

Pig Brine

After the brining process, De Brito marinates the racks and loins for three days in orange, lemon, fennel seed, olive oil, thyme, rosemary, and espelette pepper. This boosts umami and tenderness.

Pig rack

When it comes time to serve the dish, De Brito cooks a three-bone chop first by pan-searing both sides in pork fat. Then he stands the chop on its side and turns down the heat to render and crisp the fat around the edges, before roasting it atop a grate, to allow airflow around the chop. Because of the time that searing and roasting require (30-45 minutes), de Brito and his staff do it just before restaurant service begins. Then, to order, de Brito, sears the chop, cuts a slice, and bastes it with a mixture of butter, pork fat, crushed bay leaf, and thyme. On nights when he is short on chops, de Brito roasts loin instead.

Chop sear

Photo by Tom McGovern

Another brined part, the pork belly, de Brito cooks sous vide for twelve hours. At service, he pan sears it and coats it in an agrodolce of mustard seed.

As for the primal parts, still another component of the dish combines skin, feet, head, and blood. De Brito boils the skin in cream, and boils the head and feet in water and aromatics. He then de-bones the boiled meat, chops it all together, and emulsifies it with blood, nutmeg, shallot, and garlic. The result de Brito bakes until set with caramelized onion, thyme, egg yolk, espelette pepper, nutmeg, black pepper, and a touch of cream. At service, de Brito slices a cube of the terrine, and pan sears it to order.

pig blood

pig blood terrine

Bones help make another component: sauce. De Brito first roasts the bones, and then covers them in a pot with stock made from the head and feet used for the blood terrine. The broth is slowly simmered and reduced over several days, until very dark. The result: demi glace de cochon. Next, de Brito caramelizes sugar in a pan until amber, and deglazes it with orange, lime and lemon juice. He “confits” the citrus peels by cooking them in a syrup of citrus juice, sugar, water, cinnamon, and cloves. Then he combines the confited peels with the citrus glaze and the demi glace de cochon. The mixture is reduced for several more hours, after which de Brito strains the spice and peel and passes the sauce through a muslin several times to remove any specks. He rounds out the sauce with butter and pork fat, and then removes it from the heat to infuse with a few sprigs of thyme for about twenty minutes. Voila! That’s the sauce for the finished plate.

pig sauce

Another component is pork confit, made by curing shoulder and other odds-and-ends of the pig, and covering the meat in rendered soft fat. The cured meat is roasted slowly at a very low temperature until falling apart. De Brito then shreds the meat and covers it in more fat for preservation, and stores it in a container for weeks, as needed. To serve the confit, de Brito shapes small discs of confit called crepinettes, and wraps them in caul fat, the lining of the pig’s intestines. He sears them to order along with pieces of the pork belly.

Seared belly and crepinette

Photo by Tom McGovern

Finally, there is lardo, made from the layer of fat between the skin and the loin, called hard fat. De Brito cleans the hard fat and cuts it into two pound blocks, which he rubs with salt, rosemary, and black peppercorn. He wraps the blocks in plastic and stores them in a lightless bin in the walk-in refrigerator, where the blocks are aged for a minimum of six months to build flavor, being flipped every two months. When the blocks are done, de Brito washes them, lets them dry for four days, and then hangs them, wrapped in cheesecloth. For service, de Brito puts some of the lardo in the freezer so it is easy to cut into thin slices to drape across the pork. The heat lamp on the pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room is all it takes to provide the melting each slice needs for service.

Fleurie lardo

Photo by Tom McGovern

The Components

Fleurie components

Photo by Tom McGovern

The Plate

What drives a chef to devote such an enormous amount of time to a single plate of food? In this case, to honor the life of the pig. In part that means not wasting a thing. “An animal is not only a belly and a tenderloin,” de Brito says. “I strongly believe that I should do my hardest to use everything.” It also means creating the best product he can so that the pig’s death is put to the highest purpose. When de Brito first considered how to tackle the surplus of unpopular parts of the pig, he thought of turning them all into sausage, where no one would know the difference. But, de Brito ultimately decided that would be “unfair to the pig.” Instead, he set out to create a dish that would show proper respect for the pig.

To that end, it helps that de Brito and his staff are so skilled. When it comes to culinary expertise, de Brito’s decades of study and experience have yielded a chef who can run circles around much of today’s younger guard. “Jose is a naturally gifted, passionate chef whose love of the profession makes him a rarity in our industry,” says Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington. Indeed, not every chef has de Brito’s passion for classical cooking methods. “I am so attached to old fashioned preservation and ways to make the most disliked cut attractive because I am amazed of the smartness and skills of chefs of the past, who have more than thousands of ways to make each last cut tasty and usable,” the French native says. “Those skills are now either forgotten or badly used, but I keep them as alive as I can.”

And yet, in the case of “Autumn Olive Farms’ Heritage Pork, Prepared Nose to Tail,” the purpose of de Brito’s application of those skills to the pig is not to mask its flavor. Rather, it is the opposite: slowly coax out the essence of an Autumn Olive Farms pig. Look closely at de Brito’s process for making the dish and, among occasional gentle seasonings and aromatics, you will find that the primary ingredient is time. More than forty-eight hours for petit salé. Twelve hours to sous vide the belly. Several days to reduce broth to demi glace de cochon. Weeks to age the confit. Months to age the lardo. All of this time works gradually to evoke and concentrate the flavor of the pork.

In the end, on the plate is a pork chop (or loin), a piece of pork belly, blood sausage terrine, confit crepinette, and draped across the top, lardo. Richness-cutting acid comes from garnishes of apple puree, braised apple and onion agrodolce. And, perhaps most importantly of all, de Brito says, is the generous pool of sauce. “A good dish is the marriage of different ingredients,” says de Brito, “and the bonding in this marriage is the sauce.”

Fleurie sauce

Photo by Tom McGovern

The result is a lesson for diners who usually eat just a fraction of a pig. Here is a dish that, out of respect for the pig and the Trainums’ care for it, uses almost every part of the pig. And, thanks to de Brito, the dish is extraordinary.  “Jose and his team have the drive and talent to make the forgotten odds and ends of the pig taste every bit as good as the center chop,” says Helleberg. “That gives us the best chance to utilize the whole pig just as it is raised on the farm, and to be part of a sustainable and rewarding process.”

So, if you go to Fleurie for the dish, when the plate emerges from the kitchen and is placed before you, before digging in, pause for a moment of gratitude. Thank de Brito and his staff. Thank Helleberg. And, the Trainums, too. And, most of all, like they all have done through their work, thank the pig.

Fleurie plate

Photo by Tom McGovern

“Best Thing I Ate All Year” 2017

No matter what else may be going on in the world, every year is a good food year. Each December we celebrate the Charlottesville food year by looking back at our latest trip around the sun and asking top area chefs: what was the best thing you ate all year? Here are the picks from 2016 and 2015. And, below are this year’s picks in chefs’ annual tribute to Charlottesville’s bounty. Meanwhile, check back here next week for The Charlottesville 29 pick for 2017 Dish of the Year.

Mitchell Beerens (Lampo)

Crispy Lamb Shank at Oakhart Social. “The lamb shank at Oakhart Social was the best thing I ate all year. Crispy crust that gave way to super succulent meat. I’m pretty sure it was served with hummus and harissa. Super simple and super soulful. That’s what I love about Tristan and Ben’s spot.”

Shank

Tim Burgess (The Space, Bang!, and Bizou)

Biscuits at Floozie’s Pie Shop. “I had the garden omelette, grits and biscuit at Floozie’s Pie shop in Louisa last February.  The omelette was really good, fluffy farm egg goodness, but not the star here. The biscuit took me back to my childhood, the best I’ve ever had and I’ve made a lot of biscuits in my day.  Then the grits, stone ground, salty, cheesy, buttery boom. I was floored by the meal, but shouldn’t have been, Jade and Debbie can flat out cook. Their pies are the real deal too.”

floozie

Jose de Brito (Fleurie)

Cotoletta di Maiale Alla Milanese at Tavola. “My dining etiquette is that when I return dining in a same establishment I rarely reorder the same dish except in extraordinary circumstances, and that would be when I was presented with a good dish. Tavola’s pork a la Milanese is the one dish that breaks my code of conduct. It never miss, I tried to break from my bad habit; once or probably twice I did order another dish. Although the restaurant is tasty across the line, when the pork is executed flawlessly it is close to saintliness. The other day, a guest of Fleurie asked me after service what was my favorite dish in Charlottesville. Before answering her I asked her the same question and we both answered simultaneously, the pork milanese at Tavola! You see when the breading on the cutlet is perfectly breaded, the sear is of the right color, neither too light or too dark, the capers have been slightly sautéed to take out the rawness, the tomatoes roasted a la perfection and the baby arugula wilted with kindness, the sum of all those delicate little details added to a butter emulsion laced with a drop of Meyer lemon, when that emulsion has the right body, the perfect amount amount of butter to cling to the breading, it is definitely, without any doubt my choice for best dish in C-ville. (Although, after reflection, the porchetta sandwich at Lampo is a close one and another dish that has made me break my rules, I usually never eat sandwiches , but I guess I am off subject, sorry!) And now to finish my little pamphlet. Let ourself ponder about what the French Chef Joel Robuchon once said: ‘What makes a good cook from a great cook, it is all about the details.’ The Milanese at Tavola has all the right details. Arrivederci, good people.”

Laura Fonner (Duner’s)

Smoked Jerk Jackfruit by Prime 109. “I had the pleasure of judging food for a cook-off at Highland Orchard Farms and Lampo participated by debuting some of the items that will be on their new menu at their downtown steak house Prime 109. Their lamb and duck kielbasa and dry aged Szechuan peppercorn pastrami were out of this world. Amazing flavors. Amazing textures. But the standout dish that blew me away was actually their young smoked jerk jackfruit. I taste a lot of things all year long but this is the first thing this year that actually surprised me, which is what I look for in new dishes. The flavor is perfect, sweet and spicy. The texture was similar to meat and I am sure it will actually fool people into thinking they are eating some sort of jerk meat. Hats off to those gentlemen. I look forward to seeing what else will come from that restaurant!”

Jackfruit

Craig Hartman (BBQ Exchange)

Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms at Ivy Inn. “Angelo Vangelopoulos created a tasting menu for our 31st anniversary. It was world class. Our first meal with Angelo was in 1993, and watching his growth as a chef has been a real joy. He really has grown in a great direction! The whole meal was stellar but the crab stuffed squash blossoms with sweet corn sauce was unforgettable, and his father’s tomato-braised pole beans were life changing! Then, not to forget the pig brain amuse bouche, which was genius.”

squash

Michael Keaveny (Tavola)

Short Rib at The Coat Room at Brasserie Saison.  “I had a short rib with carrot ‘BBQ’ sauce in The Coat Room at Brasserie Saisson that was pretty memorable. It was crispy on the outside and tender inside. Great contrast in texture, and the sauce was surprisingly delicious. Great dish! I will miss Tyler’s food, though all indications are the new chefs are killing it!”

shortrib

Michael McCarthy (Dr. Ho’s)

Chocolate Croissant from Little Hat Creek Farm. “Spectacular if not amazeballs! I’m good for one or two every time I visit the Nelson county farmers’ market.”

choc-croissant-1911

Jenny Peterson (Paradox Pastry)

Braised Beef and Macaroni at The Alley Light. “I have to say, it’s sooooo difficult to pick a ‘best.’ I think a ‘best’ is so often situation specific. Was it who I was with on a perfect evening after a very, very long work week? Then it would be the comfort of the Braised Beef with Mac at The Alley Light.”

Tomas Rahal (MAS)

Soft-poached Duck Egg with Perigord Truffles, asparagus, moliterno di tartuffo at MAS tied with Mike Ketola’s Salt-citrus Cured Albacore Loin with grapefruit and Brussels leaves salad, also at MAS. “JF Legault’s soft-scrambled farm egg with Alba truffles was a close third. I’d love to give props to other spots, but these dishes were transcendent.”

Duckegg

Ian Redshaw (Lampo)

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at Cafe 88. “Available Friday and Saturday, dine-in only, this hidden gem is worth every last drop.”

Noodlesoup

Ivan Rekosh (Zocalo)

Roast Beef Panuozzo at Lampo.  “If I had to choose one thing, it’d probably be the aged roast beef sandwich with provolone at Lampo. I remember eating it and thinking this is the best sandwich I’ve had in a long ass time.”

beef

Wilson Richey (Ten Course Hospitality)

Crispy Scallops at Brasserie Saison. “I know you are not supposed to pick your own restaurants, but Tyler really nailed that dish and I just can’t make something up. The textures are one of the most stand out parts of the dish: the crunchy exterior, the creamy puree beneath it, and the crisp celery root on top. It’s just perfectly balanced flavor and texture. There are a lot of things going on. I could eat those scallops every night.”

scallops

Andrew Silver (Roots Natural Kitchen)

Ma Po Tofu at Taste of China. “I have discovered that I really like soft tofu (Zzzam also has really good soft tofu). It is spicy, numbing, hot, aromatic and tender. Pairs perfectly with stir fried snow pea shoots and a cold Tsingtao.”

tofu

Angelo Vangelopoulos (Ivy Inn)

Sourdough Bread by Tucker Yoder at Timbercreek Market. “I was lucky enough to have Tucker gift me a loaf (I think he owed for some truffles or something), and my family and I ate it for days. The crust is thick, it’s full of grains (I think his wife grinds the wheatberries?), has amazing chew and long lasting flavor. My son’s eyes lit up when he tasted it for the first time and he asked ‘WHERE did you get this?! It’s AMAZING!'”

sourdough1

Tristan Wraight (Oakhart Social)

Foie Gras with Passion Fruit Gelée at Fleurie. “Hot Damn. Those guys are actually cooking, and well. You don’t see real cooking all that much these days.”

foiegras

Tucker Yoder (Back 40)

Persimmons from Edible Landscaping. “These persimmons right here from my man Dan. Chased with a shot of tequila or mezcal.”

Persimmon