January 02, 2015
Should your New Year’s resolutions include mastering sausage-making or breaking down a whole hog, Kensington Quarters has you covered. The new Frankford Avenue restaurant/butcher shop launches its education program this month, with courses ranging from home kitchen skills to whole-animal demos — with an eye toward humane practices and sustainability. The first class will be held on Jan. 7.
Head butcher Bryan Mayer began collaborating with Michael Pasquarello (co-owner of Café Lift, Prohibition Taproom and Bufad with his wife, Jeniphur) on the ambitious Kensington Quarters project more than two years ago. Pasquarello knew he wanted to work with whole animals in his next restaurant, and in 2012, he connected with Mayer, who ran the butcher training school at Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats in New York's Hudson Valley.
“It just so happened that I was looking to do something different,” says Mayer, who was thinking of opening a European-style butcher shop.
Pasquarello and Mayer ultimately merged their chef/restaurateur and butchering talents into a restaurant with a built-in retail meat counter and an emphasis on responsible sourcing of ingredients. They work closely with Smucker’s Meats, a family-owned slaughterhouse in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and several local farmers who agree to follow protocols like pasture grazing.
“In terms of the agency that we take over the entire process, from having animals raised for us specifically or partnering with farms, we’ve really kind of taken it to the next step,” says Mayer. “These animals are raised how we think is the absolute only way that they should be raised.”
Kensington Quarters opened its doors in late October, with executive chef Damon Menapace overseeing the menu. The meat counter is near the entrance, with the dining room, main kitchen and bar also on the first floor. The spacious upstairs classroom and dining area has a demonstration counter, kitchen and bar. (Alas, no alcoholic drinks during class; there are knives involved, after all. But the downstairs bar will be open for after-class cocktails.)
There are two types of classes: basic hands-on technique and whole-animal butchery. Each session is limited to eight attendees, and students go home with samples.
The hour-and-a-half introductory classes ($65-$75 per person) are held on Wednesday evenings.
“You’ll get a knife; you’ll get a chicken; you’ll learn how to debone it; you’ll learn how to cut it up,” Mayer says of the “Whole Chicken” class. “In ‘Sausage Making,’ we’ll go over how to develop a recipe — fat and salt ratios for sausages and how to grind and how to stuff.”
“Basic Charcuterie” covers rillettes, chicken liver mousse and do-it-yourself curing projects; “Kitchen Butchery” looks at preparing pork and lamb for roasts.
Three-hour “Whole Animal Butchery” classes ($145 per person) on Sunday afternoons cover cuts and cooking techniques and give a peek at the big picture.
“You’ll get to do some skinning, a little deboning, some tying, stuff like that. But they’re definitely more demonstration-based to sort of introduce people to the logistics of what it means to buy a whole animal, and why you can’t get all of just this one thing — like a pig has two little tenderloins, maybe a pound each, so when you go to the supermarket and you see a tray of pork tenderloins, you know that that came from a s***-ton of pigs,” says Mayer.
“We’ll be cooking things off to give people an idea of how flavorful this product is without adulterating it whatsoever,” says Mayer, who will offer factory-farmed samples for comparison. “I think that’s one of the best ways to highlight what we do and show that not only is it healthier for you, not only is it better for the environment, not only does it help local agriculture, but it just tastes better…’cause this doesn’t work if it doesn’t taste good.”
Mayer teaches all of the classes with the exception of Heather Marold Thomason’s “Whole Animal Butchery for Ladies.” Marold Thomason, Kensington Quarters’ butcher shop manager, moved to Philly from Berkeley, California, to work with Mayer, whom she met when they led a workshop together.
“It’s just a different dynamic when there’s only women in the room. There’s a whole hog on the table; there are sharp knives; nobody’s done this before. And in the moment when it’s like, ‘Hey, who wants to step up and try this?’ If there’s men and women in the room, the men have a tendency to step forward, and the women have a tendency to fall back. And when it’s all women, they all step forward and they encourage each other,” says Marold Thomason. “I taught a women’s butchery class in California for a meat collective there, and it was awesome,” she says.
For Mayer, an affable former musician who began his butchery career in Brooklyn in 2008 and has lectured at the Culinary Institute of America, being an instructor is an integral part of his job.
“For me, teaching is fun. That’s my background. It just seems like a natural thing to do,” he says.
“We teach behind the counter all the time anyway, in terms of customers, explaining to them what it means to buy food this way — what makes this different than the supermarket experience,” says Mayer. “There’s nothing wrong with chewing; there’s nothing wrong with older animals. We’re here to teach people that they can and should eat this way. When things are raised properly, they’re a little bit older — it takes them a little longer to develop fat and to develop flavor,” he says.
Mayer is also passionate about educating people in the community about where their meat comes from.
“I think it’s awesome that more people want to be involved, connected, close to the source of their food,” he says.
He conducts workshops at Wyebrook Farm, Greensgrow Farms and the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center.
“We’re going to do a lot more work with kids,” says Mayer, who also plans to create a butcher apprentice program at Kensington Quarters.
In addition to hosting more butchery classes, as well as knife skills, bread-making and pasta-making, Mayer envisions the second floor evolving into an incubator space for a variety of people to share what they do.
“We’ll run dinner series up there. And also tap our friends who work in the food industry — chefs, artisanal food producers — to come in and run a pickling class or a coffee class,” says Mayer. “This is just the beginning.”