So, where were we…?
Ah thats right, I was just leaving 1251 in Islington and heading home for the first time in a week.
As I explained in the last Goatober post, I have been doing some work in Europe on the ‘Billy goat problem’ with the ‘Food Heroes’ project and so the next day I was on my way to Heathrow at 6 in the morning to head to Frankfurt for the German leg of Goatober. This would be my second visit this year as I had been earlier in the year to lay the ground work.
The German remit is slightly different to the to the rest of Goatober. The focus here was much smaller diaries, not the larger commercial ones we work with in the rest of Europe, with one of the goals of the project to encourage smaller dairies to produce goat meat for their local community. A lot of emphasis of the Food Heroes project is on building ‘Circular Economies’ To that end I had met with local chefs, butchers, meat wholesalers and the mayor of the town to try and cajole the community to help support the project come October. Some of my visit was filmed for a local news channel and you can watch it here. I warn you, it is some of the worst TV ever committed to film..
Fast forward to October and I landed in Frankfurt and drove the 90 minutes to Bad Soden. I am, if the true be told, not a details man. Maybe I had missed the email, maybe I had read it and forgotten, maybe it was lost in translation or maybe I had looked at it and thought ‘It will be fine’ (by far the most likely of the options) but I hadn’t realised exactly what I was letting myself in for. I thought I as doing a short cooking demonstration and Goatober explainer… As it turned out the Food Heroes project had organised an international cooking competition featuring teams from the UK (me), France, Ireland, Belgium and Germany. We were to feed 90 people who would score each dish, in much the same way the London launch night works. I had budgeted for about 3 hours between arrival and the start of my demonstration. I now had 3 hours to make food for 90 people. Shit.
Fortunately I had sent details of what I wanted to cook for the demonstration before hand and the organisers had scaled up the order to about the right amount. I commandeered a couple of school kids who had been hired into wait tables and we put together 240 marinated kid skewers in about an hour.
With my stress levels returning to somewhere near normal I did the brief introduction to the evening, with the help of an extremely patient translator. I started by asking how many of them had eaten goat meat before and the only hand that went up was the farmer who supplied the goat. I then asked how many had eaten goat dairy products in the last month and almost all the hands went up and this is the nub of the issue. All purchasing decisions have consequences. If we are eating goat dairy products one of the consequences, a few steps removed from the shop, is an unwanted male goat being born on a farm. We can offset that dairy purchase by occasionally buying a piece of goat meat, rather than the usual chicken, pork, lamb or beef. And with that it was back to the cooking.
It goes without saying the French won. They cheated buy bringing piping bags and tweezers. (Tweeers again! What’s wrong with these people..?) It was tremendous fun and once again I am left feeling both awe and gratitude that the Goatober idea had travelled so well and been such a success. At the end of the evening we had a prize giving and all the competitors got together on the stage for a photo. I love this photo. It’s Goatober and fuck brexit, all at once.
The following day I travelled out to see Tobias, the farmer who supplied the goat and the person who had put their hand up as having eaten goat meat the evening before. He had a small herd of Toggenburgs and was producing meat, milk and cheese with his husband on a farm that had been in his family for 3 generations. The area where he was farming had been forest until the 1940s, when all the trees were cut down and the land ploughed. The government then divided up the land into plots and gave it to young couples in return for them growing food. Tobias has a painting on the wall of the day his Grandparents were given the farm in his living room. He was proud to continue the farming tradition of his family and had a real sense of stewardship of his land which was charming and compelling. It’s a part of farming that doesn’t get talked about enough.
And with that, we were done with Germany for the time being. I wasn’t heading back to Devon though, this stretch of Goatotber would be the longest I’d be away from home. From Frankfurt to Rome. Rome. Oh my God, Rome…
Italian food is the best in the world and anyone who says its not is wrong and, going out on a limb here, Roman food might be the best in Italy. So its an obvious destination for Goatober. It is also the City with the best ice cream I’ve ever had, so it would be nice to go back.
I didn’t organise this trip. I left that to Matt. Matt Williamson and I have known each other for about 20 years. I was cooking at The Lansdown in Primrose Hill when he took over as head chef. I really wasn’t very good back then and it didn’t take Matt long to notice. One night he pulled me aside and said ‘I can teach you how to cook, or I can fire you’. I chose to be taught but sooner or later I was fired anyway…
Matt and I got back in touch when he was running the much missed ‘Flinty Red’ restaurant in Bristol. He became a regular customer and as Cabrito grew we started to use Matt for our food events and recipe development. Although he works freelance, Matt has become a key part of Cabrito. He floated the idea of a Rome Goatober event back in the summer and I left him to get on and organise it. As it turns out he is friends with the food writer Rachel Roddy who lives in Rome and writes a weekly colum in the Guardian, A Kitchen in Rome. Using Rachel’s contacts we found a venue, the lovely Latteria Studio and we had an event. Latteria Studio is in the Testaccio district of Rome and where the city’s best food market is. Having Rachel as a guide meant we knew where to go to get the good stuff. Breakfast of a braised beef neck sandwich and a lunch of ox tongue stuffed into a focaccia and covered in salsa verde for a coupe of euros. For dinner a pizza with a sublime base. Crispy yet it almost dissolved in the mouth. Man, I love Rome.
We still didn’t have any goat though and the event was only a day away. Finding goat in Rome was no easier than it is anywhere else, sadly. They have the goats and a dairy system, they produce 10 tonnes of Formaggella del Luinese a month but still no market for the unwanted billies, it would seem. We exhausted all of Rachels possibles so resorted to asking around at Testaccio Market and finally we had a lead. A market out of town that catered for the Roman immigrant community and, we were told, they had goat. They were only open from about 6am to 9am though. A job for Matt that one, for sure.
The event wasn’t until the evening and Matt was happy cooking so I slipped out and headed into the city again. I was determined to squeeze in as much ice creams as possible. I have had the discussion a thousand times; which is the best food. Italian or French. I stated my position earlier, so you’ll know I come down on the side of Italian. I know the arguments. French cheese, French charcuterie, French wine, French Mushrooms, truffles, poultry, fruit, the list goes on and on. But the Italians have coffee
and ice cream. I am not reducing all Italian food down to just coffee and ice cream, however. Far from it. The Italians have like for like, and in some cases improvements, on that list of French triumphs but French coffee is absolutely appalling and their ice cream just isn’t even close. So while in Rome I was going to get my fill. If ever you are in Rome, I can highly recommend Galateria del Teatro.
Back at the kitchen Matt had worked his usual magic and we were set to go. The menu was Dried Cherry & Almond Peshwari Naan, Slow Cooked Raan, Pomegranate & Mint, Tandoori Kebab with Onion Raita, Goan Sorpatel Curry. The sopatel curry, a kind of vindaloo made with offal, as a little nod to the Romans love of what Fergus Henderson calls ‘the slippery bits.’
It was a lovely evening. A little bit of GoatChat and some lovely food. Once again the Goatober message travelled well and I was lucky enough to get an education on Italy’s modern history from one of the guests.
The following afternoon I flew back to London after one more stop at Gelateria del Teatro. Unfortunately the flight times and train timetables meant I couldn’t get home. I had also been away for about a week and only had a ‘carry on’. I needed to wash some clothes. From the glamour of Rome to a Clapham Travelodge and an evening in the laundrette.
It would be churlish to complain, this was shaping up to be a hell of an adventure but I did miss my partner and children and being back in the UK but not being able to go home sucked.
The next day was an early start to Gatwick and a fight to New York. Goatober was going home.
As I have explained before, Goatober isn’t my idea. It comes from Heritage Foods in the USA, you can read about its origins here. What we have done is bring it to the UK and, via the ‘Food Heroes’ project, to wider Europe but it remains Heritage Foods’ ‘thing.’ In March I went over to New York to met the team at Heritage and we put together some ideas for events in New York and Brooklyn. This was the third year we had Goatober in the UK and what had frustrated me a little about the previous years was that those restaurants and events happening in the US were not joined up to the things we were doing. It felt to me that Goatober would have more ‘ooomph’ if we joined the strands together and to that end I was heading to New York.
This is one of those moments in the story where a lot of new characters are introduced, so bear with me….
Team Heritage Foods USA had arranged two events and and two appearances on the Heritage Radio Network. HRN was founded by Patrick Martins (who also founded Heritage Foods and SlowFood USA) in a shipping container out the back of Roberta Pizza. Roberta pizza is a Brooklyn institution being, perhaps the first place to go to during the birth of the Brooklyn food scene. The NYT writes about it here. Heritage Foods are the USA’s biggest wholesaler of Heritage Breeds. By Heritage they mean breeds that have not had there genetics altered to grow faster or bigger. They have the same genetics as they have always had. They support a network of farms doing things the right way across the USA. They supply hundreds of restaurants with the majority of their business in NYC and Brooklyn. Using these contacts was how Goatober got started and it was how we had two events planned. One in Manhattan, at Heurtas and one in Brooklyn at the mighty Claro. But before the events I had some eating to do… First stop was Chelsea Market. There are three stops in Chelsea Market I would recommend. The Lobster Place for the incredible section of New England Shellfish, some of the finest in the world. The oyster plate section is unbelievably good. Thats your starter. Then head to Los Taco No.1 f0r the main course. The tacos are great, not brillaint but great and the tacos are only half the reason you go. The theatre of the queuing, the ordering and the serving is just wonderful. Then head downstairs for the cheese course at Saxelby Cheese. There is a link to Goatober here, of course. Some of the cheese producers stocked at Saxelby supply the goats to heritage foods and it was while visiting these same cheese makers Erin Fairbanks came up with the idea. Get a coffee from Ninth Street Espresso (the coffee is roasted on site) on the way out and you would have had an excellent and delicious few hours.
That afternoon I was due to be on the Farm Report on Heritage Network. You can listen to the episode here. This is probably the best interview I’ve done. I think I was as concise as I’ve ever been in explaining the issues behind Goatober. The credit for that goes to Lisa Held. She is an excellent host and interviewer, cutting through my ability to waffle with all the right questions.
From HRN to Claro for the Goatober Dinner I was most looking forward to. I had been once before, when I was over in March and bizarrely, had ended up in the photos of The New York Times review. The review was a good one and I urge you to read it for yourself but this is a particularly pleasing passage.. “try to go to Claro on a night when barbecued goat is on the menu. Served with blue and yellow tortillas, red and green salsas, and a bowl of consommé, it is more than enough to make a meal of.” It wasn’t just a good review, it was a prescient one. Michelin gave Claro a star a few months later. The chef behind Claro is TJ Steel and TJ isn’t fucking about when it comes to Mexican food. There is a Food and Wine profile of him here but if you don’t fancy that just know he has set up a cooperative in Oaxaca to grow the corn for the masa in his Claro tacos and he has his own mescal brand. I’m no expert but I would be surprised if there is better or more authentic Mexican food in New York.
The event was completely sold out over two sittings and it was absolute delicious, the barbacoa goat being the highlight obviously but I was surprised buy the deep fried Crickets. They were so tasty, like Taggiasca olives but with a slight sourness. Delicious. I did a bit of ‘GoatChat’ and Patrick was on hand to talk about what Heritage Foods does, where you can buy it and to give out their shiny new brouchure, ever the sales man. ? The rest of the evening was spent out on the terrace chatting about the US food system with Dan and Vicky Purdy of Purdy and Sons. Purdy and Sons are a medium sized meat business operating in upstate New York. They use traditional methods, no growth hormones or intensive production and have built a successful business doing it. And that in the USA is no mean feet. I first heard about Heritage Foods about 10 years ago after reading ‘Eating Animals’ by Johnathan Safran Foer. In the book he dissects the ethics of eating meat and examines the good and the bad of US meat production. Its a sobering read and has shown me what folks like Dan and Vicky are up against. The cost implications of free range, high welfare and good feeding programs (the type that don’t give cows BSE) and the knock on effect on the retail price vs the cheap meat produced in terrible conditions. Thats why the work of Heritage food, Heritage radio and others is so important. Pushing back against the Industrial Agricultural complex, so we see more Purdys, not fewer.
Next morning was to be another proud moment for me. I was going on Heritage radio for a second time but on The Main Course OG, the first radio show on the network with its founder Patrick and the host Emily Pearson. Emily’s role in the US leg for Goatober has been underplayed in the blog up to now. All the events ware organised by Emily and she has been the link between us in the UK and Heritage Foods. She has enthusiastcially embraced the idea of expanding Goatober and made introductions and contacts that have helped enormously. She has also been my personal New York restaurant concierge. From her office at Heritage HQ she has steered me round with WhatsApp messages and google maps to some of the best places to eat in the city. Emily is amazing. The other guests on the show were Anne Saxelby, of cheese fame mentioned earlier, Dan Purdy, the meat guy mentioned earlier, and Brandon Hoy co-owner of Roberta Pizza. You can listen to how it went here.
From Roberta’s we headed to Heritage HQ for a chef visit, tasting and presentation. Emily had asked that I meet some of the Heritage clients and chat about about goats and Goatober, which I was happy to do. We also fed them mountains of charcuterie, pork, lamb, goat and cheese taken from the Heritage range. It was a great afternoon.
Heurtas was the venue for the event the following day so I had an afternoon to kill and a lunch to eat. This could only mean a return to The Gramercy Tavern. In the collective imagination New York is a lot of things. King Kong and the Empire State building, Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ and a million things in between. Somewhere in my New York imagery there is 1930s, Gotham styled sophistication and that is the Gramercy Tavern. It has huge floor to celling widows that look out onto East 20th Street and a bar stretched across the back of the room. In the corner there is a tiny nook that I was lucky enough to bag. The Tavern have been big supporters of Goatober and the dish they had on today way Goat Cavatelli, a pasta made from semolina dough which give it a gnocchi like texture. So delicious. The Gramercy Tavern’s food is excellent but what sets it apart is the service. Its the best service I’ve ever had anywhere. Just the right amount of chat to make you feel comfortable and enough leaving you alone to let you enjoy dining. Its very hard to put your finger on exactly what good service is but I think if you feel comfortable in the place the front of house have done their job: I could have spent hours sat at that bar.
The Tavern is part of the Union Square Group who have been pioneers in introducing a ‘No Tipping ‘ policy. One of the things we all know about the US is that tipping is part of the culture and when it was introduced in 2015 it is not overstating it to say it shocked the hospitality industry. Danny Meyer, the CEO of USG, wanted to pay the living age, pension contributions, give healthcare cover and paid paternity leave, benefits that are rare in hospitality. To do it he raised prices and eliminated tipping, calling it ‘Hospitality Included’. It has had mixed results. He has lost staff on the one hand but has seen the wages of the back of house staff rise significantly. You can read more on that here. The history of tipping in the US is a dark one. It has its roots in slavery, where emancipated slaves, especially woman, couldn’t find paid work. White business owners refused to pay black people wages , so they worked for tips. That, coupled with the masses of evidence that servers feel they have to tolerate sexual harassment because they are relying on tipping to top up the minimum wage that can be as little as $2.13, make me think that however bumpy the roll out of ‘Hospitality Included’ may be it should be applauded and I hope it succeeds.
A long lunch needs a long walk and Manhattan is a great place to just walk. So I spent the rest of the day wondering down to the East Village to meet Team Heritage for dinner at Huertas. Jonah Miller, chef and owner of Huertas is a talented guy. He’s worked at most of the best places to eat in NYC and has spent years in Spain, both eating and cooking. He was also one of the Forbes 30 under 30 last year. I don’t think Huertas will be his only restaurant.
We had the private dining room for the night, a sell out crowd and a 5 course menu. The format, as ever, was a bit of GoatChat from me and from Patrick a bit of promotion work for brand Heritage. I could listen to Patrick talk about food all day. He has a knack of condensing big ideas in food into language everyone can understand and does it an amusing and charming way. Here is another plug for the Main Course OG Podcast on the Heritage Radio Network, where you can hear him every week. The food was lovely. There are few combinations better than marinated, sweet/sharp red peppers and caperberry saltiness to garnish the sweet kid meat but the highlight was the goat chorizo, hand made on site of course, cooked in cider. That and seeing the Heritage logo next to the Goatober one.
And with that Goatober New York and Goatober were over…well, almost. I had a stop at Marta for the goat pizza and a last hurrah at La Vara but then it really, really was time to go. I was going home for the first time in 10 days, unbelievably to a 5 years old birthday party. I mean, who plans these things?
Please take a look at our sponsors, who are both featured in the recipes included in the blog…
(I just realised I didn’t put any recipes in this one so click here for the fiery Rajasthani Goat Curry we were going to make in Rome, but swapped for the sorpatal…)