Archive for August, 2014
Posted in Interview | Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
Ashley and Ethan Bisagna’s romance bloomed over the shared responsibility of butchering lambs in the basement of one of Portland’s most acclaimed restaurants, Clyde Common. The romance eventually moved beyond the space of the basement to bigger spaces: marriage, kids, and a dynamic, creative business built around their shared passion for food. On July 31st, Ethan and Ashley opened their own delicatessen on Tacoma Street in downtown Sellwood called Feastworks. It serves as both a restaurant and a hub for their catering business. Just a few blocks away from the Portland Homestead Supply, Feastworks supplies delicious cuts of consciously-raised meats for all hungry Portlanders. Feastworks has an educational element to it as well; Ethan shares his expertise with community members by teaching butchering classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Check out the interview below to understand more about the importance of well-raised meat and to get excited about the newest delicatessen in town!
How did you both get involved in cooking, catering, and butchering?
Ashley: Well, we both grew up in families that were very into food, so we just grew up that way, interested in cooking. Neither of us grew up eating processed food, so it is kind of natural that this would be our profession. We were both at Clyde Common when it first opened, and that’s where we met, butchering lambs together. That’s the romantic part… us in the basement, me holding a lamb while he’s sawing it; that’s how we fell in love.
Ethan: We both started cooking before that. Ashley has a bachelor’s degree from WSU (Washington State University) in Business; Hospitality Administration. She started out managing hotels after college – eventually she went to the back of the house because she realized that’s where she belonged. I went to culinary school ten years ago, so that’s how I started cooking. When I got the job at Clyde Common, they had just started doing the whole animal program, which Ashley brought on when she was working as a sous chef there. So I started my career as a butcher there. We both were cooking for quite a few years before Clyde Common.
What is the whole animal program at Clyde Common?
Ethan: Just whole animals. Instead of bringing in pre-cut, pre-fabricated meats, they started bringing in whole animals. That had to do with Ashley because she was working at Park Kitchen before that, and she was prepping animals with the chef. I got that because I had a lot of hunting experience. I’ve been, with family members, breaking down animals most of my life, which is different from the way I cut them now, but still good experience. Anyway, we started this together after Clyde Common. It was slow to begin with. I bounced around working at Phil’s Meat Market, Laurelhurst Market, while we were doing this. We both had to step off completely in 2010. –
Was it hard to convince Clyde Common to bring in the whole animal? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Ashley: No, because people are really interested in getting meat sourced from small, local farms with no antibiotics, no hormones. From a small farm, you can’t piece out meat as easily. That was just our way of getting that quality meat to work into our menu.
Ethan: It’s the same idea as farm to table with vegetables. You bring all your great organic produce to the table, and you should match the great produce with great meats.
Where do you all source your food here?
Ashley: Carlton Farms Pork, which is all natural, hormone and antibiotic free. Chicken is Mary’s Organic.
How did you choose those farms to source from?
Ethan: Carlton Farms is not commodity agriculture. It’s large, but it’s still small enough to where they have their own farms in Washington and Oregon that grow the animals to their specifications with no hormones, no antibiotics, to the size they want, to the weight they want, to the feed that they have to have in order to purchase from these farms. It’s small farm operations that grow to Carlton Farms specifications. It works well for us with the amount of pork that we have to have on a consistent basis weekly.
I know that you launched your store in Sellwood just last week on July 31st! How would you differentiate yourself from other delicatessens in Portland?
First of all, we make all of the product that’s in the case. We do not bring in any one else’s product. Everything that we put out, besides the bread which is from An Xuyen Bakery, which is a small, family bakery, is made in house. Everything, from the sauces to the meats to the pastries are made in house.
How long have you all been thinking and talking about opening this business?
Ethan: Years. We have been catering for five years, so we had been talking about opening something so we could build our catering company. It was really the place that we picked that would dictate the type of business that we could open. We knew we were going to sell charcuterie and food, but the location was going to determine our options. We had been talking about a delicatessen for years.
Ashley: This works best for starting out for us just because we already have the catering and the charcuterie going, so it’s a way to open up and expand on what we do well. We already have a great following at the farmer’s markets based on all of those products.
Will y’all still be doing farmer’s markets?
Ashley: Yes. We are at the Woodstock and Beaverton farmer’s markets.
What has been one of your biggest challenges in opening?
Ashley: Waiting five years for banks to finally take us seriously!
Ethan: We don’t have investors; we did it on our own from what we had built before. We put all of our money back into the business. Time management is definitely challenging with catering, building this business, and having three children.
How do you see your work fitting into the larger homesteading movement?
Ashley: Well, for example, today, there was a couple that came in and bought some charcuterie that had been at one of our classes at the Portland Homestead Supply. Ethan taught a pig butchering class. They went there and had learned from Ethan how to butcher a pig. They came and are interested in our business and our product and are also interested in getting a pig themselves and using that knowledge.
Ethan: Just further education on why you should source your meat responsibly. Instead of doing commodity mass agriculture from the Midwest, which I understand there’s a reason for, but sourcing your meat responsibly and continuing to teach how to break down animals, how to make sausage, just educating the general public on getting good product and why it matters to get a good product.
How often do you teach the butchering class?
Ethan: We are only doing a few a year right now just because we’ve been busy. A couple years ago, we were doing a lot, but now we do them around Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, around holidays. We might up on the classes now that this business is open because we can advertise easier here. We might start doing a monthly class, still at the Homestead Supply.
Did you butcher the pig in that room?
Ethan: Yeah, a lot of people just walking through were really interested. Every now and then, you get people who won’t walk up there while it’s happening. One time, we had ten people in our class, but with thirty people watching from the sidelines.
How much are the classes and what do you do in them?
Ethan: $125. You really learn how to take an animal from a whole animal to portion cuts that you would see in your local butcher shop, half an animal to primals to sub-primals to portion cuts. Then I explain why these cuts are cut like this, where they come from.
Where would you suggest if people are wanting to buy cuts or if someone wanted to buy a whole pig and put it in their freezer?
They could buy a whole pig from us. We’re not selling raw meat directly out of the case, but if someone ordered something large like that, we would sell them that. Any of the big butcher shops around town, like Laurelhurst Market is a great place to source really well-raised products. CHOP Butchery & Charcuterie would be able to do it as well.
How does Feastworks support (and receive support from) other organizations/individuals/businesses in the local community?
Just here in Sellwood, we are friends with the Portland Homestead Supply, the Portland Bottle Shop, Reverends Barbecue. We all support each other and have worked with each other at some point throughout our careers. We all send people to each other. We eat at their places, they eat at ours.
For those interested in growing and butchering their own animals, what is your best advice? Any pro-tips?
Take a class first. Don’t be too intimated, understand there’s not really a wrong way to do it. If you’re cutting the meat that you can cook and you can eat, and you haven’t wasted any of it, then you really didn’t do anything incorrectly. Understand that it’s all meat. As long as you can cook it and eat it, you’re doing just fine.
What is your favorite meat product that you sell? What would be perfect for a summer picnic and why?
Ethan: Ham. I like hams in all forms. I make an American style smoked ham, which I really like. Salt cured ham, country style ham, boiled ham, smoked ham, I’m just a big fan of ham. I think we do a very good one.
Ashley: I’d say our hot link, 100%. It’s the best hot link I’ve ever had. It’s a Louisiana style hot link, smoked pork sausage, very spicy and very flavorful, delicious.
What kind of spice is in it?
Ethan: Cayenne, garlic, salt, allspice, basil, mustard seed, red chili flake. It’s really good.
What is Feastworks next step? What is your vision for Feastworks ten years down the road?
Our next step is growing this business, this deli. Long term, I’d say we would like to eventually get a catering commissary kitchen that is separate, so that we can grow our catering company. And who knows from there!
A series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.
Okay August, it’s on. I’m on, you’re on, we’re all on — the bounty, the harvest and full court preserving. With July behind us we are well underway. Jam pots have been filled and freezers packed with berries. Yes, July gave us pause but nothing like what stands before us. August, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road as stone fruits, beans, squash, cucumbers, pepper and tomatoes fall in mad succession. This is our proving ground, the time farmwives earn their cred, the time the reasons for the season make themselves known.
I’ve already mentioned some of the reasons, let us call it the farmwife initiative. But other reasons exist – tasty ones, frugal ones, smart, farm-wife cooking ones. This matter of cooking is, at the end of the day, what food preservation is all about, but I do not hear enough of it. Not in the manner that befits the cause and that concerns me a bit. Because without cooking food preservation floats perilously in the modern world of trending and trends do pass. Before long jars of pickles and jam will saddle up between knitted hats and macrame plant holders (if you’re that old) to gather dust and mock our fleeting fascinations. I do not want to scold, but form without full-bodied function is our culture’s folly and the death knell of many a movement. Which is why I am up in arms touting cooking – day in and day out cooking, solid simple everyday cooking, cooking from our (own) stores, cooking from the food we have put up in volume and farmer direct, cooking as the motive and logic behind this movement because without that important piece our movement is open to what may come.
I’ve thought long and hard about what may come and I don’t think I’m far off. You see, without our deep and continued support small-scale farmers will need to look evermore to the market place for their survival. To a certain degree they already do but in the long term the marketplace (with its long established operational systems) will demand an ever greater participation in a system that belies the heart of this movement. The culprit (if I’m to call it that) is something called economies of scale and without going into it’s operational raison d’être, (if only because other posts will cover it) I will simply tell you that small farmers ain’t got it and likely don’t want it. What they have in it’s stead, however, is the proverbial swimming-up-stream scale because being small in an economy pegged to big is way more than an ideological stance — it is a challenge of unparalleled proportions. Hourly wage??? Don’t ask. So why do they do it? Well, because they’ve looked at the land and the soil and the environment and figured out that of all the many things they could do in this life farming, honest small scale farming, might be the most ethical. At least that’s how I figure it and I sorta agree. Which is why I love them and love imagining I am a part of that life but not without understand my responsibility in the matter.
You see, to allow them to shoulder the weight of some pastoral mystique without standing shoulder to shoulder in the effort is blatantly unfair, and so I cook. To leave them alone to deal with the cost of land today, the cost of start up, the learning curve, the merciless hours, the back breaking work is unfair, and so I cook. To imagine they can sustain all the hand work and trips loading and unloading at farmer’s markets or management of weeds or watching produce gone to seed or chores left undone or a house left to disrepair is unfair, and so I cook. To assume that it is fair that they cannot pay for help or take a weekend off is unfair, and so I cook. I cook because I’m afraid what will happen if I don’t. Because if I don’t then I cannot blame them for looking elsewhere. Soon they will be open to whatever port in a storm is available to them. Soon specialization will creep back into the lexicon. Soon (and this is beginning to happen) they will be approached by big business (the brokers and big chain supermarkets) telling them to quit all that silly small farm diversity stuff and grow an exclusive main crop at guaranteed prices before season’s end which will mean, as it has meant before, pennies on the dollar.
Soon competition will increase and payments decrease. Soon get big or get out will repeat its rationalizing mantra. Soon farmers will see their crop shipped or trucked hither and thon or mixed with the produce of other farms to end up as private-label, value-added stuffs marketed as “organic on a budget” which will, at first glance, appear fair but on closer consideration will reveal the principles of economies of scale and efficiency systems and vertical integration come full circle. Soon it will be production, distribution and consumption as usual if only with a brand new organic and local party hat and frankly, who could blame them? I mean you try being a broke ass hard working small scale farmer for a couple of years and then talk. So I get it, see it, and fear it. We is why I yammer on so much about farm direct purchasing and farmwifery, food preservation and now cooking. It is why, if you haven’t figured it out, I say we farmwives are important, no, VITAL, bookends to this movement and that we have to show up, put up, be counted and cook. If not do not be surprised when the revolution is packaged and sold on your grocer’s shelf.
But what’s that you say????? You’re too busy to cook. I know that rationale and I will not jump into that briar patch except to say busyness is not particular to our generation but rather, as a generation, particularly based on the presupposition of leisure. And leisure, as it has been handed down to the people (particularly during the growing season) is the rationale of efficiency systems, cum industry, cum economies of scale, cum marketing, cum chicken Mc nuggets or, at the other end of the spectrum, fancy hand-crafted foods that speak the language of a movement many times removed from the economies of small scale farming. Leisure, as it turns out, is based on a certain lie and either costs too much or too little and, dependent on class, is feeding a people either filler or hype.
Yes, yes, we are busy or perhaps only seduced by the easy flow of food stuffs brimming from street carts to grocery stores (in fact Heat-and-Eat family meals is one of the quickest growing segments in grocery sales) or because we imagine cooking a mystery. My sense is we’ve made too much of cooking or maybe just fancy cooking. But farmwife cooking ain’t fancy, it’s real!
Perhaps one day I’ll get around to writing a cookbook that shows just how simple it can be. Then again, there are plenty of books out there that can give you the basics and as I’ve written before, all you really need is one “how to cook everything” cookbook and you’re set. The Joy of Cooking is still my go-to favorite, but the point is you don’t need to complicate things. Really, all you need is a willingness and commitment to cook your meals.
I guess I’m lucky. I hail from a generation whose parents still cooked. Utility was the point, frugality was the reality. There were no recipes, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother look at a cookbook. What she had was a repertoire. Most nights there were baked potatoes set on the dinner table, and no one ever decried the repetition. They were easy to make, affordable and tasty; a virtual farmwife trifecta. Vegetables were simply steamed with a little meat roasted or broiled to the side. Dessert was simple. Applesauce or fruit compote – that mystery of stewed dried fruits reconstituted with a bit of lemon peel and cinnamon. A miracle of thrifty innovation.
Beside my mother I have sat at the table of older farmwives. Women I have met since moving to Oregon and from whom I’ve learned both the simplest and most profound style of cooking. Biscuits or cornbread cooked in the flash of an eye and repeated infinitum. A jar of pickles brought out at every meal or that here-to-fore odd but soon to be revived (if I have anything to do with it) mixture of frozen mixed vegetables cooked in a flash. Sausage, steaks, ground beef or chicken defrosted and simply cooked (if you go that way) keeps it easy along with a bit of mashed potatoes. Canned fruit sauces (apple, pear, plum, whatever), served to the side of many a pork chop or for dessert or in baking – miles and miles of baking in muffins and cake – is simply utility unbound.
Yes, this is August, the season of our madness. As you continue with your bad selves let me encourage you to think seriously about how you cook, what you cook, how much you cook and, most importantly, why you cook. Choose items to preserve or store that will go the distance. Put on your farmwife hat and think utility more than fancies. And on that note I offer you mom’s recipe for stewed fruit. Couldn’t be any easier.
In a pan put an assortment of dried fruit (the fruit you dried over the season)
Suggestions: – Prunes, apples, apricots and pears
Add a stick of cinnamon and a few slices of lemon peel
Add water to cover
Bring to the boil
Turn off heat, cool
Put in a jar and let the fruit sit overnight to make it’s own syrup
Eat as is or served with yogurt or cottage cheese or on pancakes or, or, or.
Will stay good in fridge till a very long time!
Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to email@example.com, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you!