Grass-fed cattle, slaughtered at various ages, complete our list of animals we purchase whole directly from the rancher
Since our beginnings twenty years ago, we have given the sourcing of ingredients the same level of importance as preparation and presentation. We began celebrating those ingredients when we presented our first Dinners for Tomatoes seventeen years ago, and our annual Whole Hog Dinners, begun nearly a decade ago, showed unequivocally that farmer-direct whole animals are essential to traditional pork cookery.
We are now pleased to have added beef to our list of whole animals: pork, lamb, chicken, duck, pigeon, and rabbit. (And except for the biggest fish, such as tuna and swordfish, we are one of only a very small number of Bay Area restaurants who receive fish whole and not fileted by the fish wholesaler.) Chef Canales has a thoughtful relationship with every supplier, which enables him and his staff to understand the entire process of food preparation, including butchery and the characteristic qualities of all parts of each animal. “We only use animals from farmers we know, and of course that includes knowing their practices. Not only is it a more sustainable approach to animal husbandry, but breaking down and butchering animals also opens the door to a world of old recipes and preparations that have evolved over centuries. With our new beef program, we have access to younger animals with natural diets of mother’s milk and/or pasture, new cuts and hanging times, and new opportunities to improvise and create dishes that are completely fresh and exhilarating but are also consistent with basic cooking traditions.”
In keeping with Italian countryside practices, where no animal part goes to waste, we became committed to obtaining all our animals whole, and have just reached that goal. We get whole lambs from Don Watson, all of our ducks, rabbits, hens, and pigeons whole from local sustainable farms, whole fish from Tom Worthington at Monterey Fish, whole hogs from Paul Willis, and now whole beef from Mac Magruder’s grass-fed herds in Potter Valley. Working with Magruder and Sam Goldberger, Chef Canales is developing Italian segmentation of animals by age and size–vitellino (seasonal, and the youngest–3 to 6 weeks old and under 300 pounds), vitello, vitellone (500 to 700 pounds), manzo, and bua (about 24 months old and over 1200 pounds). And none of the animals is fed silage, as irrigated pasture is always available.
Chef Canales had been looking for a source for vitellone and manzo for some time. As always, it took a conversation with a rancher/farmer to make it happen. We’ve learned again and again that when we get more deeply into those things we care about, the results are always exciting and reap new rewards on the menu. And we stay vital by taking on new challenges.
To accommodate the new whole-beef program, we’ve undergone significant reconfiguring and modification of our storage facilities, including installing a full-size meat locker (get a tour).