This year, for the first time, I took part in Meatopia, the annual celebration of all things meat. Unlike other events, where I either pay my own way or am fortunate enough to get a press pass so that I can write about it for this website, this time I was a volunteer. As a Culinary Arts student at the International Culinary Center, I had a chance to help out several days before the event, assisting a couple of different chefs who participated in Saturday’s carnivore-oriented festival.
When the call for volunteers was posted on the internal school website, I knew I was going to want to help out with this event. I signed up to pitch in to assist for just a couple of the days prior to the festival, plus helping out on site on the actual day. Among the chefs who were in town last week for this event were Jonathon Sawyer and his team from The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio. Working alongside of them in the prep kitchen at the school, I caught sight of the heaping piles of butter that they were going to use for their dish.
Prep for The Greenhouse Tavern team
In advance of heading to Randall’s Island to cook up their dish, Jonathon Sawyer and his team also cleaned brains and sweetbreads, then packed them up to be transported on Saturday morning. I’m not sure where all that butter disappeared to, but the photo above shows the results. Crispy sweetbreads served alongside scrambled brains and eggs. When I saw them at the event, there were many eager offal-lovers were on line waiting to try it.
Another chef whom I briefly met last week was Siggi Hall from Iceland. Having had Icelandic lamb at another event last year, I knew that this was a dish not to be missed. Delicately-perfumed, slightly smoke-scented, grilled lamb was rich and almost buttery. The coleslaw served alongside of it gave the lamb a creamy, tangy, crunch foil to contrast it.
Icelandic Free Range, Grass Fed, Boneless Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Creamy Coleslaw by Siggi Hall
There were two dishes with which I helped out in the days leading up to the event. One was on the first day of my kitchen shift, where I picked through huge, massive piles of thyme and parsley, separating the herbs from their stems, that went into the fragrant and spicy chimichurri sauce that accompanied Chef Santiago Garat‘s whole Uruguayan-style lamb. Other students worked beside me to tackle the mounds of basil and mint or to peel the boiled potatoes and slice the onions that went into making the vinegary salad that went really well with the smokey, rich meat.
Uruguayan-style Lamb with Chimichurri Sauce by Santiago Garat
On the second day of my kitchen volunteer shift, I worked with Chef Franklin Becker. He served up tender, velvety Danish Meatballs with a Creamy Dill Sauce. I was part of the meatball rolling crew. In total, I think we made about a couple of thousand meatballs. There was no way that I was going to miss out on getting to try one of these on Saturday. They tasted every bit as good as the sample ones we tested out in the prep kitchen.
Danish Meatballs with a Creamy Dill Sauce by Franklin Becker
One of the interesting things about being in the kitchen was watching the process by which the chefs put their dishes together. As we’ve been urged to do on many occasions by our instructors, the chefs tasted everything at each stage of the process, adding a bit of something here, tweaking an ingredient there. Watching the journey of the carts filled with raw ingredients being transformed into composed bites for the festival was also an awesome spectacle. Boxes and boxes of herbs, pounds of raw meat, cases of onions, garlic, jugs of oil and vinegar, and many other assorted food items had been delivered to the school several days in advance of the prep work that chefs carried out with the assistance of many of the culinary school’s students.
I had been told by a few folks that about 4,000 people were expected for this event. With the rain that morning and the threat of storms that afternoon, I’m not sure if all of those folks showed up. The chefs with whom I worked said that they were preparing a few thousand plates apiece. I wish I had had a chance to eat more of what was available on Saturday, but it was almost just as interesting working behind the scenes as it was to cover the event the way that I usually do. It gave me a chance to interact with some of the people who work so hard to make these events happen and who stick through the day despite rain, scorching heat, and blustery winds to keep the crowds of folks well-fed. I also heard some great feedback about the dishes with which I helped out from other attendees which made me feel really happy that in a small way my efforts in the kitchen were able to contribute to their enjoying the day.
For more of my photos from Meatopia 2012, please see this slideshow: