Slow Food Columbus

Offal: Columbus’ Next Big Thing?

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Bison tongue with tarragon

As we prepare for our upcoming Off the Menu dinner, An Offal Evening at Basi [tickets here], it occurs to me that it’s worth taking a moment to write a little bit about the connection between the dinner and the sustainable food movement.  I’ve had occasion to reflect on that question recently, during a trip to Montreal that included dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, perhaps the hottest restaurant in the city.  Au Pied de Cochon’s menu includes tongue, organs, a two-person pig’s head dish—in short, offal, and lots of it—and at the moment it’s the most popular restaurant in the city: if you don’t call two weeks ahead of time for a reservation, you might as well not even bother.

I realized, as I was reflecting on my dinner, that the things that make Au Pied de Cochon wildly popular would probably translate unusually well into the Columbus food scene:

  • It’s really good. This is the key, of course: if you get people by their tongues, their hearts and minds will follow.  But part of the reason that it’s good follows from the next point:
  • It’s really economical. The cuts of meat that they’re using are far less expensive than most, so they can afford preparations (a five-hour braise, a time-intensive demiglace) that might be prohibitive under other circumstances.
  • It’s very sustainable. While they don’t exactly use every part of the pig or the duck, they use a lot more than just a pork chop or a duck breast.  The more of each animal you can use, the fewer animals you need to sustain the same population—it’s as simple as that.  And when you’re as good at using lots of different parts as these guys are, everybody wins.

I summed up the experience by saying to my server, “I love what you’re doing because you’re making sustainability cool.”  Her eyes lit up and she agreed immediately:  “We used to have the pig’s head dish on the menu, and nobody would eat it.  Now, people call ahead to make sure that it’s available!”



  • http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com Heather Jarman

    Bear, these are excellent points you make. I can expand on sustainability. When I organized my first advanced salumi (cured pork) course in Tuscany, my course teacher Giancarlo Russo (consultant to Slow Food Italy on meat matters) and I decided not to include soppressata (head cheese) or biroldo (a blood sausage typical of the Lucca area). We expected mainly British and North Americans on the course, and our perception of them was that they thought offal was awful. We were wrong. We had three rearers of rare breed pigs on the first course, and they needed to know what to do with the head and the organs so they could maximize the edible products they get from each pig. It was so obvious when they pointed it out. I’ve now found a butcher willing to teach how to make these products and will try to include them on the next course.

  • http://rodchu.blogspot.com Roderick Chu

    Food fads have transformed many once-discarded parts into high-priced items. Chicken wings, chicken feet, ox tails, short ribs, pork loin bones (spare ribs) now command higher prices than most meaty cuts from their animals! Sigh, it’s become quite expensive to make some of my Grandpa’s traditional Chinese soups! Always looking for less-used ingredients to make delicious, inexpensive dishes.

  • Bear

    I know what you mean! My only consolation is that, at this rate, before long I might be able to get ribeyes at bargain-basement prices….