French chef and author Stephane Reynaud recently visited Australia and demonstrated his skills in a dying art at a workshop with members of Slow Food Central Victoria. Richard Cornish of The Age was there to witness it.
STEPHANE Reynaud is a big man. He could be a rugby player. He uses his size and strength to lift the 70-kilogram pig onto the rafters of the old barn. In front of a small ensemble of onlookers, the French chef opens his arms and gesticulates towards the carcass and says: “OK! Let’s eat!” There is a silent pause before a relieved chorus of laughter. Reynaud also has a big sense of humour.
He has taken a day off from his busy schedule publicising his award-winning book Pork & Sons to take part in a Slow Food Central Victoria pig workshop. Over the course of the day an entire rare-breed Wessex Saddleback pig is to be broken down, cooked, made into pate, terrine, roasts, grills and sausages. Local farmer Nick Chambers helps Reynaud cut the pig in half.
‘How does this compare with your French pigs,’ asks Chambers.
‘We let our pigs grow much larger to 18 months old and they weigh 200 kilograms, so about 120 kilograms dressed,’ he says.
‘How many men does it take to cut up a pig in France?” asks an onlooker, a well-known home butcher. ‘Drunk men or sober men?’ Reynaud asks cheekily in reply.
The owner of popular Paris restaurant Villa9trois, Reynaud spent childhood winters with his grandfather Francois Barbe, the butcher in the town of Saint-Agreve in Ardeche, 560 kilometres south-east of Paris. With him Reynaud learned the tradition and etiquette of the traditional French pig kill, taking part in his first slaughter at the age of seven on a day that was minus 12 degrees.
Despite a busy life in the city, Reynaud keeps his rural roots by attending the annual kill in Saint-Agreve and is even part owner of a pig. ‘I still return to Ardeche to kill the pig with a friend. He is a machine salesman,’ he explains. ‘We do it for the good food and the tradition.’
‘In a village where people still kill the pig for their own consumption, the animals don’t have names. They do (however) have free-range lives and are eating the produce of the farm,’ he insists.
‘A friend’s pigs will eat the milk from a nearby goat’s milk dairy,’ he says as he cuts off the head and splits it open, reserving the brain. He cuts off the cheeks and places these and the head into a stockpot with vegetables and seasonings to make a terrine.
He cuts the skin off the belly and some from the head and places this in a bowl with some fat and a little flesh. This will shortly be minced to make a saucisse de sabodet a lyonnaise sausage, similar to a small cotechino, flavoured with salt and pepper.
The head of Slow Food Central Victoria, Mary Ellis, is armed with a bag of potatoes and pounces on the offal. ‘According to the book,’ she says, ‘it’s traditional to make a fricassee with the heart, liver and kidneys and potatoes. See page 48!’
To this, another guest replies: ‘In that case let’s all be traditional and have a glass of wine like Stephane does on page 26!’ There’s a pop of a cork and a small cheer. It is still morning.
On the table in the centre of the old barn, Ballarat restaurateur Dean Smith bones a hind leg. ‘This bloke’s (Reynaud) a dying breed. Apart from some notable individuals there is virtually no whole-carcass butchery left in the Australian restaurant industry and it’s getting that way in Europe. A lot of the apprentices don’t even have knives. They buy their meat cut up in bags and give customers what they want – prime cuts.’
At the bench, the loin racks have been laid on a bed of celery and chorizo, lightly salted and oiled, and placed by the stove ready to go in the oven. A pile of meat and fat sits in a bowl and Reynaud asks everyone to make an offering of a flavour. ‘Just like an offering plate in church everyone must drop something in,’ he says.
In goes fennel, orange, chestnuts, rosemary, pepper and other spices. ‘Good. This will be the saucisse esprit de spontaneite,’ he says, translating it with a cheeky smile, ‘That is, er, sausage of the day.’
Someone asks the question: “Would you make a sausage like this at home?” Reynaud replies: “Of course. Everyone puts something in. Back in France when we cut up a pig it is done by loving people, who love food. This way everyone eats something made by everyone.”
Another bowl comes out and pieces of pork and fat are mixed with shallots, cognac, salt and sage. Reynaud lines a terrine dish with slices of local prosciutto from Istra smallgoods, pressing the terrines into the dishes, decorating them with bay leaves and finally putting them into the oven in a bain-marie.
Sitting outside in the kitchen garden, basking in the late autumn sun, we wait for the racks of loin to rest and discuss the book Pork & Sons which won the 2005 French Gourmand Cookbook Award. The English translation is a beautiful production with a soft-pink, gingham cover and laced with humorous line drawing caricatures of pigs by artist Jose Reise de Matos.
The 150 recipes are more a guide to day-to-day rustic cooking and entertaining than a bible for charcuterie, but at their heart they have a solid respect for good pork. The breakouts also pay respect to a way of life in rural France that is fast disappearing.
‘The men I learned this (sic) recipes from are dying. These recipes are practices that are passed from grandfather to son to grandson.’ Reynaud looks around at the people cooking, making sausages and terrines. ‘Now there is less and less of this sort of thing even in France. I am 40 this year and I wanted to give my (three) children something in black and white about their great-grandfather, about Saint-Agreve and the pig. Because in 10 years time this could all be gone. Hopefully not.’
Pork & Sons is published by Phaidon $59.95