“How would you guys like to roast a pig at our Downtown Luau?”
I have to confess, as Chairman of the Board of Slow Food Columbus, that I don’t get asked questions like that very often. This question came from Jill Moorhead, the incredibly energetic Marketing Director and social media diva for The Hills Market. Jill had organized an Ark of Taste dinner for us, to get customer feedback on Ark items for the Hills, and she was instrumental in getting Ark of Taste turkeys into the Hills’ offerings last Thanksgiving. So I knew Jill wasn’t just tossing around ideas.
“That depends,” I replied. “If it’s a factory hog that never gets to move around or see the light of day… no. If it’s an Ark of Taste hog raised in a pasture, probably yes.”
“Can you get an Ark of Taste hog?” she replied.
That was exactly the response I’d hoped for. It led to a series of emails and discussions and ideas that culminated in one of my favorite events in a long time. More than that, though, it highlighted the goodwill and energy that make Central Ohio’s sustainable food community so incredibly awesome.
Jill is the first member of that community involved in this event; simply put, she made it possible. After she contacted me, I contacted Neil Perin of Arcadian Acres, who is listed on LocalHarvest as a producer of Red Wattle pigs. Neil’s response told me that I’d found the right guy:
Thank you for your interest in me, my pigs, and everything else we are about! Yes! I raise Red Wattles. And yes I am VERY interested in both providing a whole roasting hog, as well as collaborating in any way I can in this event. …I am thrilled Slow Food Columbus has finally gotten a chance to contact and work with me, and I hope I am everything you’re looking for and I aspire to be!
The hogs, Neil assured me, were raised “organically and soy free on pasture and finished in the woods with acorn/hickory/walnut and some other tasty forage treats.” Bingo—we have our hogs.
The next step was to find a way to butcher them. Before I even had time to start figuring this out, Tim Struble of Bluescreek Farm at the North Market had volunteered to take it on. Fantastic!
Next, we needed someone to oversee the cooking. When it comes to applying fire to pigs, there’s no one I know who’s better, or more passionate, than Jim Budros. During the day, Jim is chairman of Budros, Ruhlin and Roe, a wealth and investment management team, and he brings the same intensity and exactitude to his hobbies that he brings to his work. His main hobby, as far as I can tell, is making food with fire. He co-founded City BBQ and donated the LiveFire Theater to the Franklin Park Conservatory, and he was one of the chefs at our Girasole Dinner years ago. Jim accepted without hesitation, advised us on everything from cuts to technique, and procured a portable rotisserie smoker for the event.
Finally, we weren’t going to be able to do this without help—people to make sandwiches, chop up pork, scoop fruit salad, and chat with guests. In the past, we’ve relied on word of mouth to get volunteers, and very often the Board was called on to do much of the heavy lifting. But last winter, with the help of Adam Schweigert of Media Toybox, we created a volunteer signup page, and the volunteers had been trickling in ever since. It was time to put that system to the test, and it worked beautifully: Colleen Luther, Ashley Bersani, Sarah Milo, Michelle Larimer, Nathan Bihm, Fei Qin, Maureen Severson, and Eleonora Mattiacci all stepped up to work shifts, and the indefatigable Mark Anthony Arceño volunteered to work the entire event—as well as to spend the night outside the Hills guarding the meat if necessary. Finally, Kelly, Matt, and the staff at the Hills Downtown were fantastic hosts, providing us with everything we needed without hesitation.
The actual preparation of the hogs—Tim called them “Hogzillas”—was an adventure, and some readers probably don’t want to know too much about the specifics. But what struck me the most was the reverence with which our team took on the task. Tim remarked more than once that the hogs were “gorgeous,” and Jim worked at great length to ensure that they got the best possible treatment before, during, and after the cook—even bringing John, his neighbor and City BBQ co-founder, to help with the pulling and picking.
One moment in particular stands out. Toward the end of the preparation, Tim asked what we planned to do with the skeletons. With a hundred other things on my mind, I hadn’t considered that one. As I pondered, he said, “You have to do something with them.” I knew, immediately, what he was saying: that we needed to honor, not just the animals, but the people who produced them, by using every last bit somehow. I couldn’t have agreed more.
Fortunately, the folks at Skillet Rustic Urban Food felt the same way. When I contacted Patrick Caskey and asked whether they could find a good use for the skeletons of a couple of enormous Red Wattle pigs, his immediate response was, “Hell yeah!”
I’ll leave the details of the actual event to a followup post by Mark Anthony, who catalogued them in far more detail than I was able to. But I thought it was important to set the stage and, in so doing, to give you a glimpse of some of the fantastic people who make up the sustainable-food community in our area.
More to come….