In the kitchen where he boasts two huge barbecue grills designed exclusively to roast his iconic boned pork recipe to serve more than 15,000 guests per month, Brazilian chef Jefferson Rueda has no doubt of the quality standards of the animals that he uses in dozens of dishes of his hog-focused restaurant. And the reason is simple: since the beginning of this year, Rueda has been raising pigs himself in partnership with an agricultural engineer in farmland in the region of São José do Rio Pardo, the city where the chef was born in the interior of São Paulo State.
Rueda is part of a new movement in which chefs and restaurant owners are turning to farms to raise their own cattle to use in their restaurants. It's not something pretty new — chefs such as Dan Barber, for example, of acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns, has been breeding animals for some time now, like many others — but it has become increasingly more common in restaurants around the world in the last year.
Driven by these new times when the concern with the environment and the need to rethink meat consumption has become more urgent, many decide that the best thing to do is to raise their own meat. So they focus on the provenance of what they serve and the welfare of the animals.
A Casa do Porco
Rueda runs A Casa do Porco (which debuted at No.39 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list), opened in 2015 in São Paulo’s Downtown, to showcase the versatility of pork in creations such as pork sushi, a ceviche using the feet and tail from the animal and even a pork tartare made, of course, with raw (matured) meat. “To serve dishes like these, I have to make sure of the quality and to know the precise origin of the animals,'' he says.
The chef dabbled in trying different breeds to find the best fit for his restaurant — some are good for the sausages made in house; others, without so much fat, are better for the grilling, allowing a crispy skin and a tender meat — but there were many times he couldn’t keep the standards in his kitchen: both regarding the size of the animals and the quality of their meat. He then decided to start his own project to solve the problem. “Today, I know the origin of each animal, how they eat, how much they weigh, their lineage,” he explains. The farm supplies 90% of the pork used in the restaurant: the goal is to reach the 100% mark by the end of the year. Also in his plans is the construction of his own slaughterhouse where he can have control of the whole process.
At the farm, all the pigs (from different breeds, many of them mixed breeds) are fed with vegetables and buttermilk that comes from a dairy located just a few kilometers from there. Some supplements are used to ensure the health of the animals that live freely in the fields. The animals are raised for approximately 12 to 14 months, so they have to take good care of them during this period. “We can no longer eat animals at any cost. We need to be responsible for their breeding from the time they are born until the time they finally reach the plate. It is the chef's role to make sure that the animal has had a good life, that he is healthy and free from any diseases,” he adds.
At Mirazur (# 1 of The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2019 list), chef Mauro Colagreco grows about 80% of everything of what he serves in his restaurant, from herbs to strawberries, from courgettes to the famous lemon of Menton, the city where his 3-Michelin-starred restaurant is located. He recently built a chicken coop with chickens of different breeds to use free-range eggs in the many preparations in his kitchen. “There are 45 chickens raised in our garden,” he says.
Today, Mirazur counts on an exclusive team of five dedicated people to take care of more than 500 plant species — which include about 30 varieties of tomatoes, one of Colagreco’s obsessions. The eggs are the literal reflection of the biodiversity maintained there: color range goes from white to light blue, passing through different sizes — and even flavors. Buying farm eggs would not allow him to have such a variety. "The greater the diversity, the better”, Colagreco adds.
Woods Hill Table
Located in Concord, Massachusetts, in the northeast of USA, Woods Hill Table is an organic and sustainable restaurant where all the meat served comes from locally raised animals. Partners Kristin Canty and chef Charlie Foster focus on grass-fed proteins, raw milk cheeses, and organic produce in all the dishes to please diners looking for an ecological journey through the food world. They decided to raise their own animals because they wanted to make certain they could offer only grass-fed meat. “We weren’t sure we would be able to find enough. But today we have cows, pigs, ducks, chickens, and lamb on the farm. The demand is high at our restaurant and we are able to support other regenerative farms that raise their animals the same way”, Kanty says. Their rural 265-acre farm is located in New Hampshire, and they lease more land for grazing purposes. The restaurant was the first restaurant in the US to receive three stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association due to their work on the farm.
Owning their own farm was, according to Canty, the only form to practice sustainable farming, humanely caring for and raising animals. At Woods Hill Table, the animals are all rotationally grazed on the farm and are constantly moved to fresh pasture. To make sure that the philosophy is really understood by the whole team, they take the staff up to the farm at least once a year so they can bond with farmers, meet the animals and learn first hand how they are raised and cared for. “We hope that people care about what they are eating. Luckily we do see this more and more as people worry about the environment and welfare,” she concludes.
Even urban restaurants, located in the world's great metropolis, have already sought a closer relationship with the countryside — and with pastures. All the ingredients that supply the kitchen of brothers Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy of Twins Garden, located in the Russian capital, come from a 125-acres farm located in the Kaluga region, less than 200 kilometers from Moscow.
The private farm is the materialization of their dream to supply their own products to the Twins Garden restaurant (opened in 2017): more than two-thirds of market traffic now comes from their piece of land. Among 150 types of vegetables, the brothers also raise poultry, dairy cows, and rare Nubian goats for their own cheese production, all served in their Gastronomic Set menu (there is also a Vegetarian option).
Their cuisine is based on seasonality, freshness, tradition. More than experimenting on dry-aging vegetables and making vegetable wines, the chefs — who did internships in famous restaurants such as Alinea (Sergei) and ElBulli (Ivan) — are looking for adding more locally-raised animals in their farm, like quails, five types of fish, crayfish and bees. “We personally monitor and control what our animals eat. We choose the best fertilizers for the soil and take responsibility for the conditions of fruits and vegetables”, they say. This is, according to them, the best way for them to deeply know the ingredients they serve. “It is a great joy for us to be fully involved in the whole process”.