A Word On Food: The Meat Pickers

The Meat Pickers

It seems to me that the greatest flavors can only be obtained by the most menial jobs. When we start off cooking in the restaurant life … we ‘grunt cooks’ are given those jobs. In time we move up to other chores that are less monotonous from those on the outside watching. My friend Chef Thomas Keller says that he loves the Zen of ‘carefully washing dishes’ … and how he still takes that task on from time to time … though he surely could delegate it. For me the menial job I still take on is being a ‘meat picker’. This slow, labor intensive job means I am somewhere where folks still care about the longer arc of flavors only found in things like braising, stock-making, stewing and 24-hour barbecue vigils.

I have known this job a near lifespan. Many times, I have stood over a still steaming bowl the size of a saucer sled a child could ride down a snowy hill … brimming with meat, bones, spent vegetables, errant bay leaves, scattered whole peppercorns and the blasted stems of herbs stripped from hours of simmering … the meat now so perfectly tender, a nearly toothless person could chew it. My fingers would be smudged with the collagens of that meat and the winy essences of liquids taken down, down, down. To do this job you feel more than think. You gently search … with the infinite knowledge of touch. Thank god for the radio and the songs that played to take me away from the ache that would often visit me when my back or feet reminded me of how long I’d asked them to remain in one place … standing and stooping over mining the meat.

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Now it’s time to hit the ‘Listen on WLRN’ button at the top to hear the remainder of my show. ‘A Word On Food’ airs on WLRN every Saturday around 8:30 a.m. at 91.3 and also 91.5 on the radio. I want to thank so many of you who tell me in person how much you are enjoying the show!

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