Ask the Chefs of Pig Island: Why Pork? Why Farm to Restaurant? Why Local?

Heather Carlucci of Print RestaurantAfter the release of the much-anticipated porky menu for Pig Island II last week, we asked some of the participating chefs to give us their thoughts on some hot topics like the NYC pork craze, sourcing locally and developing relationships with farmers. See what they had to say below:

Q: What are your thoughts on New York City's ongoing obsession with pork and all things pig? Where do you think this craze originated?

"It's funny. Just as in fashion, music and the arts, I think a lot of the dishes and items we obsess about in the food world are cyclical. The economy plays a big part in all of this as well. A few years ago, when the economy was booming, it was all about haute cuisine and El Bulli. Now, everyone is obsessed over food trucks, pizza, burgers, tacos and what you can do with a whole pig. I love it!" - Chef King Phojankong of Kuma Inn and Umi Nom

"I think cooks in this town really love eating and cooking ethnic cuisine and nothing is more utilized around the world than the pig. Chefs have been combining really amazing techniques with exotic ingredients and coming up with some incredible dishes. Whether it's something new or a classic combination, pork has an amazing flavor and versatility. I also believe consumers have an easier time ordering a Heritage or Berkshire breed of hog that they trust has been raised happy and healthy. These pigs are more readily available than ever and New Yorkers can taste the difference." - Chef Nate Courtland of iCi

"This is a craze that we didn't create ... it is one we unleashed. Remember the "other white meat" ... that campaign and the subsequent production gave Americans some of the worst meat we have ever consumed, cheap or not. When growers (mostly small artisans) started breeding old, traditional stocks that do well outside in weather, we found pork again. Realizing that fat and marbling in pork were good traits and not "unhealthy" gave us a new world of loving pork." - Chef Joe Dobias of JoeDoe

Q: Pig Island is a celebration of New York's chefs, farmers, brewers and vintners. What kind of difference does it make to know where your food is sourced from, and having relationships with your farmers?

"I think it makes the world much more conscience to it’s surroundings. To really know and appreciate the cycle of life, from the pig that was raised, to the farmer who raised it, to the restaurant/chef who cooks the food to the end consumer who enjoys the final product. It all works together, and can work very well if every aspect is done ethically correct. The end product will always be better." - Chef Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo

Joe Dobias of JoeDoe "Cheesy response on the way--it is amazing! If you can afford it, and I hope one day everyone gets some portion of their food from folks they know. In the resto setting it is an important part of "the process" of cooking. If you understand the animals you buy and the people who raise them, you 100 percent respect the outcome." - Chef Joe Dobias of JoeDoe

"Everything, I love to be part of celebrating the close connection between farmers and chef, means close connection to the taste, to bring out the best of the produce. When you know where it comes from and understand the land and people, your food becomes more personal and it is better for the climate and your personal health." - Chef Trina Hahnermann, guest chef from Denmark, Neuman's Catering

"Where we source not only our food but our wine from means everything to us. Ici's owner Catherine Saillard has been committed to a locavore philosophy since the restaurant opened 7 years ago and it's not just another fad for the restaurant. It allows us to keep our dishes as simply prepared and clean tasting as possible. Letting the ingredients taste like what they actually are and have the unique textures that nature has given them is really important to the dishes on the menu. When you meet these farmers that are so passionate about what they grow and the animals they raise, you realize that they are truly doing something special. They are genuinely good people working for a very modest living, and supporting them is our responsibility." - Chef Nate Courtland of iCi

"Having  that relationship is a world of difference. The respect you have with the raw ingredients and of course the end product. Without it, you lose the natural connection between the earth and your food." - Chef Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez of PRINT.

Q: Have you ever visited a farm that you work with? What was that experience like?

"Yes, it's an eye opening experience. It's something every serious cook should go through. You come to appreciate food more once you're involved in the planting and harvesting of fruits and vegetables and the slaughtering of animals." - Chef King Phojankong of Kuma Inn and Umi Nom

"At Print, we try to visit as many of the farms we work with as possible. It's always a good experience. It truly tells you where your food comes from and sometimes whether or not you're a good fit for each other." - Chef Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez of PRINT.

"Yes, I have and it makes you understand how much the taste of food has to do with soil and the farmer. It's not a common practice in Denmark, it used to be when I was a child, but it is growing again." - Chef Trina Hahnermann, guest chef from Denmark, Neuman's Catering

"I have visited all but two of the farms I work with and hope to see them all. It changed everything for me to see people on the starting end of the food chain who were just as passionate(obsessive) about what they do as Jill and I are at JoeDoe." - Chef Joe Dobias of JoeDoe


Take a look at the Pig Island menu to find out what these chefs will be cooking. See more photos from last year's event here.

Questions and reporting by Rosalin Luetum and Viktoriya Syrov.