Eating Animal? Have a Heart

photo courtesy of @incantoSF on twitter

photo courtesy of @incantoSF on twitter

A post by Pete Thibault
Twitter feed: @Pete_Tibs

Keep an open mind and challenge yourself! That about sums up my philosophy vis a vis the wonderful world of food. Sounds an awful lot like a quote from Ratatouille’s Chef Gusteau doesn’t it? I make no apologies for that as Chef Gusteau ranks highly in my list of culinary influences. You read that right, I list a cartoon chef from a Pixar movie as an influence.  Of all the animated movies I have watched with my children, Ratatouille by far had the biggest impact.

“Anyone can cook”

This message definitely struck a chord with my little family. Not too long after watching the movie, I noticed my daughter taking more of an interest in what I was doing in the kitchen. While still young, it’s abundantly clear that she’s an artistically inclined child and what better place to express her creativity than in the kitchen. I’ve made an effort to include her in meal preparation at least once a week since then and will continue to do so as she gets older. On her first day of kindergarten, when asked to name something yellow, can you guess what her answer was? Lemon zest!  Good job sweetheart!

OK, confession time. All of the above is a little tangential to what I really set out to write about in this post.  Were Gusteau called upon to come up with a tag line for what I really wanted to discuss, he’d probably deliver something like ….

“Anything can be cooked”

What I’m speaking of, if you haven’t already guessed, is the emerging nose to tail cooking movement. Put simply, nose to tail cooking means serving up parts of the beast that normal cooks leave behind. It’s the single biggest trend I can point to in my most recent culinary adventures.  More and more Chef’s menus are featuring decidedly more adventurous cuts of meat such as tongue, ear, kidneys, tripe and heart.

When you consider it, it’s an absolutely brilliant move on a few fronts. You see the paragraph above where I call it the “emerging nose to tail movement”? I had to suppress a chuckle when I wrote it because the notion that head to tail cooking is a modern philosophy is a complete joke. If anything, it’s decidedly old world and harkens back to a less wasteful time when we had to do more with less. In shitty economic times, we always try to stretch what we have to the fullest.  I guess having people believe it’s a new idea certainly can’t hurt from a marketing perspective. It’s also quite easy to see why this makes sense from a purely business standpoint when you consider that most of these “secondary” cuts of meat are substantially cheaper than serving filet mignon. This allows restaurants to keep their food costs down and profit margins up by using the whole carcass.

photo courtesy of @incantoSF on twitter

photo courtesy of @incantoSF on twitter

Ok, enough with the socio-economic crap. This is a food blog dammit! You remember when I said, keep an open mind and challenge yourself? This is the part where I tie everything together in a nice, neat little package and all my rambling begins to make sense.  The ultimate payoff of the nose to tail cooking movement is it forces Chef’s to step up their game. You see, these supposedly less desirable cuts of meat require a little more time and loving than your best cuts. I find myself in awe of the skill and creativity it takes to deliver something truly delicious with unconventional elements. Not to be lost in all of this is the challenge it presents to the eater. Are you gutsy enough to give the Sweetbreads, Marrow Salsa Verde and braise Purple Radishes a try? How about the Beef Heart Tartar, Sea Urchin Bottarga and Uni crackers? While I’m not comfortable enough with my skills as a cook to attack making any of this myself, you can bet that I’m more than willing to jam them in my gob at least once.

photo courtesy of @incantoSF on twitter

photo courtesy of @incantoSF on twitter

If the animal’s life has been taken for us to consume it, the least we can do is respect that and eat the whole thing. A bit of a challenge, both in terms of cooking and eating can never be a bad thing.

Dishes cited in this post as well as the accompanying pictures come from the minds of Mark Pastore & Chris Cosentino. Their restaurant Incanto, located in San Francisco ranks very highly on my “must eat there someday” list. Check them out for yourselves at

Categories: Pete Eats

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