Warning: This blog post is about our farm program, and talks about animals being killed.
by Ben Samann, General Manager
For almost a decade, Viamede has had a farm program. From the first day, the purpose was officially to provide food for the kitchen and interest for the guests. Unofficially, it’s been a way for guests, staff, and me, to remind ourselves on where meat comes from.
For me, raising turkeys, chickens, and pigs for meat has been a way to keep myself grounded. The restaurant industry is full of wasteful practices, and for many, there’s simply a financial incentive to not waste food. By raising pigs, I look at bacon in the garbage and see a small part of a pig that gave its life. If I’m going to eat meat, and source meat for hundreds of people, then I need to make responsible, educated choices on the ethics and my own personal feelings.
Any meat served in our restaurants is killed at a licensed abattoir, which means it’s properly inspected and certified. However, there are times when we kill animals on site, and staff are invited to learn the process, participate, and take a chicken home with them. This is entirely voluntary, and people come away with a much deeper understanding of where meat comes from, and why that matters.
Each year, at Easter, we get our chicks for the season. We raise chickens for fun, mostly, rather than the eggs, and most years, we re-home them to local hobby farmers. The most common breeds we get are Silkies, Brahmas, and other heritage breeds, but this year, we got Cornish Cross, a classic meat chicken. They grow almost too fast for their own bodies, and after a few weeks, are ready for the table.
Recently our sous-chef Mandy, groundskeeper Brad, and I, went to the farm and killed our chickens. It’s not something I enjoy in the least, and it prompts a lot of thinking – hence this blog post.
For a while now, Chef Kyle, Mandy and I have been talking about meat and what it means. We all see it very similarly – meat can be delicious and a fantastic part of a meal, but too often, we end up with flavourless, overbred and poorly cooked meat in a dish that really doesn’t need it. “Tofu’s a poor substitute for meat, but then, so is supermarket chicken.”
I cooked some chicken on the grill without seasoning, and you know what it tasted like? Nothing. If the whole flavour of the dish needs to be added anyway, what’s the point of having chicken in there?
For years now, we’ve worked with the idea that all dishes should be vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free unless there’s a good reason for them not to be – we don’t use beef stock in our soups or flour in our gravies, for example. This makes it easy to accommodate guests with most of our menu, but it’s also highlighted how easy it is to work without these things in many cases. Obviously, our creamy pasta has cream and cheese, our burger is all beef, and our pork chop is amazing pork from the pigs we raised on the property.
Meat should be a feature. We should be sourcing the best meat we can get, and using it in ways where it really stands out. If it doesn’t stand out, we should look at replacing it.
As time goes on, I imagine we’ll be learning more and more about this. In the meantime, it’s a lot of musing, playing, and learning.
Thanks for listening.