—THE CHOW 13—
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Pastry chefs were the sexy dudes of the food world in 2008; Sam Mason and Alex Stupak, with their faux hawks and tattooed arms, showed up on the pages of every food magazine. Before that, it was so-called mixologists, gettin’ physical with their ice chisels and mint muddlers. But 2009 has been the year of the hot butcher. You can blame a lot of it on Ryan Farr.
Farr recently became one of the most talked-about chefs in San Francisco—peculiar because he has no restaurant, café, or traditional presence of any kind. He is a nomadic butcher, sausage maker, and butchery teacher, who peddles artisanal hot dogs at the farmers’ market, throws parties at bars where he roasts whole animals, and supplies cocktail bars and coffeehouses with little baggies of addictive deep-fried pork skins called chicharrones.
The aura of excitement around whatever Farr does is testament to the public’s current fixation with carnage and all its trappings: slabs of meat and big shiny knives. But it’s also thanks to Farr’s image-consciousness (in a good way). At a recent pig cookoff, he served raw, house-cured bacon hung on a wire with clothespins, flanked by female attendants in matching feather hair ornaments. He created a set of limited-edition letterpress posters in honor of the chicharrones, with his fingerprint in lard on the back. And in a breathless New York Times story about the “rock star butcher” trend, he quipped that he dreamed of meeting New York’s reigning hot meat man, Tom Mylan, to “throw a 300-pound pig in the middle of a room full of people and just tag-team it with him.” Now that’s sexy.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
“I have no idea. Maybe a washed-up singer for a Guns ’N Roses cover band? I’ve always been a G’nR fan, and I can see that.”
Did you have a mentor?
“Not really. I’m kind of self-taught when it comes to butchery. I have no back knowledge of USDA cuts and how you break down a steer or pig the same every time. I’ve always been into making sausages: charcuterie, salamis, and all that stuff. I left [the restaurant] Orson to start my own business. I didn’t know exactly what it was, I just knew it was going to be around meat—a smokehouse or butcher or something. I was just following my stomach and to see where I ended up. I’ll keep pushing it until I’m not hungry, and I’m always hungry. I just ate lunch and I’m already thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner!”
What excites you about your industry?
“There are lots of people out there like myself who want to make things for themselves and write their own rules, and we’re all supporting each other as artisans. I’m just focusing on sausages, butchering, and chicharrones, so when we go to the market, I’m using mustard and kimchee my buddies make, hot dog buns from Acme, and sauerkraut from Cultured Organic. I’m buying it from these guys, but I’m also [telling my customers], ‘This is where it’s coming from.’ In a restaurant, it would be all under my name, because I’m the chef.”