A couple of weeks ago, while down in Providence for a meeting, I briefly spoke with chef Beau Vestal of New Rivers about an exciting partnership he’s forging with a local farmer in order to source rabbits. This definitely seemed like something to follow up on so I asked Beau a few questions.
- Who is this relationship with and how did this relationship come about?
The farmer’s name is Patrick Beck and I have known Pat for years now… he is actually a purveyor of RI grass fed beef, handling sales and marketing of Treat Rock Beef in Little Compton as well as an advocate for RI Livestock Association and fighter for all things sustainable meat. This is his first foray into the rabbit business so we are working together to get a business model up and running as well as collaborating on what chefs will be looking for as far as animal size/quality et cetera; how to market the product, delivery logistics, slaughter logistics, et cetera.
- What are the benefits of working directly with a supplier like this? Any drawbacks?
Benefits are that I am the first customer of his so getting in at the ground level gives me the chance to work closely with him in all facets…deciding the weight of the animal that goes to slaughter, experimenting with different feeds to achieve certain results, discussing slaughtering options, et cetera.
Drawbacks are ironically similar to benefits… Being a farmer new to raising this animal, there is certainly a learning curve from his end. Is he planting the right combination of grasses and grains on his pasture to get maximum, healthy growth? Will there be a steady supply of animals week to week or will there be lapses due to figuring out a grow/slaughter schedule? Will the live weight correspond to useable hang weight for chefs? Will he be able to raise the animals properly and provide a workable price point that both covers his end but is still fits into the price structure that is workable for chefs and their restaurants? Most importantly: will the animals taste good?
- Do you see this as a long-term relationship?
I hope so. If the animals are of a high quality and the logistics work out with regards to steady supply, price, et cetera, then of course.
- Do you expect any difference from working with heritage breed rabbits?
I have never worked with the “silver fox” breed before but research has led me to believe that it will be a leaner animal with larger hind legs and an elongated torso. While the larger legs equals larger portion cuts and the longer torso equals larger loins and saddles, being leaner than non-heritage animals (which are already pretty damn lean) will take some creativity to ensure a juicy end result. I will experiment with brining, caul fat wrapping, we always do some braised and confit… so yes it will be an interesting and fun challenge to learn the intricacies of the silver fox… similarly with the pork heritage breeds I work with (Berkshire, Tamworth) you learn what each animal’s strengths and weaknesses are and how to go about using them to celebrate the unique traits that they have.
- What advice do you have for chefs who are looking for alternative sources for foodstuffs other than well established modes of purveyorship?
Spend the time researching and connecting with people. Don’t rely on others to do it for you. I know we chefs are always busy, but sourcing our ingredients is one of our main and most important jobs. Make the connections with people, develop working relationships. Go visit their operations. We like to go with our cooks and interns and show them the farm/animals we use. Looking the farmer in the eye goes a lot further than an email or a series of phone tag missed calls. Take the time, get out there.
- What are you going to do with the rabbits?
The question might be better posed as “what aren’t you going to do with the rabbits?” We use every last part I like to either braise, slow roast, or confit the hind legs, we have pulled the loins out whole and simply grilled or roasted them, or we have done the saddle as well, the front legs are great confit (like a rabbit chicken wing!) We always do a lot of charcuterie whether it be sausages, terrines, crepinettes, etc… and of course we always use the offal, our favorite way is to simply skewer the liver, kidneys and hearts and marinate in Madeira and thyme and grill them over high heat, basting in butter the whole time… perfect.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m working on a Pretty Things collaboration dinner for sometime in early summer with the rabbits and their newest beer: fluffy white rabbits. A perfect combo! I’m thinking about doing old 18th and 19th century dishes using rabbit. Archaic British Isle dishes that might call for hare… seems fitting in keeping with both my ethos for old, traditional, forgotten about cooking techniques, etc and Dann and Martha of Pretty Things style for brewing historically yet outside the box… stay tuned!