November 15, 2011
I spent a few days this last week working at an amazing little shop called Charcuterie Chibaudo. About 8 years ago an incredibly energetic French Chef named Laurent bought a tired little charcuterie in old town Nice and turned it into an amazing tour de force(meat).
I am unsure what kind of pull Jean-Francois has in this town, but with one word from him, Laurent opened up not only his kitchen but his recipe books to me and invited me to hang out with him and his absolutely amazing crew. Just so it is very clear to everyone from the beginning, Charcuterie Chibaudo is completely and utterly amazing. What Laurent and his crew does on a daily basis is unreal, the sheer amount of product that is produced and sold unreal. From the moment they open the shop at 9 am until they close there is a line out the door. All the while in this little kitchen more types of sausages (fresh, smoked and dried), pates, forcemeats, multiple terrines (aspic, aspic, aspic), hams, whole pigs stuffed more pork (porchetta), roasted duck legs, rillettes, pig noses, pigs feet in many different forms, head cheese, strips of skins, chops of throat muscle, chops of prime loins, multiple forms of cured belly, multiple forms of bulk sausages, ground pork, various forms of offal, take home lunches, shepard’s pie, stuffed puff pastries called Bouche a la Reina, salt cod potato cakes, starches, lentils, sauerkraut and even desserts are being produced on a scale I have never imagined possible. There were only four guys doing all this (one more actually, but he spent most of his time in the basement coating andiouellettes in fat and bread crumbs). These five guys, plus two women working the counter (one was Laurent’s wife Dina, whom I met while working in Miami) were responsible for the all set up (the 30 foot long deli case was set up and broke down every day), preparation, execution and cleaning. Laurent is an absolute mad man, moving faster than I have seen anyone move in years. We are incredibly efficient in the Bistro, but this was awe inspiring. They all run from place to place, sliding into position, treating the water on the floor not so much as a hazard, but a necessary lubricant for speed. I ended up standing on a little stairway to the attic, with my jaw on the floor watching this circus unfold before me. Twenty kilos of belly and shoulder at a time go into the chopper.
Nothing is ground, there is no time. The chopper is a massive recirculating bowl with three vertical blades that can reduce four inch chunks of belly into a puree in minutes. I used a smaller scale version of this contraption when I was much younger; we called it a “Buffalo Chopper”. Laurent says his is well over 50 years old and works like a champ. The blades are honed multiple times during the day. I watched Laurent make three different types of Perrugina (small finely ground sausages: traditional, spiced and fennel with black pepper) one after the other, each one taking less than five minutes a-piece in the hopper. The sausage is then directly put into the stuffer, where a wonderful older gentleman named Richard dutifully stuffed sausages. He did not have to run or slide, thank God, but rather just wetted multiple different types of intestines for casing the sausages and then stuffed like a mad man. Every time I looked over the table was full of sausages. The completed sausages were then tied off like cordalettes and move to the counter to be purchased immediately by the hungry customers. After the Perrugina, Sausage de Toulouse goes in, then Cervelias, sausage du Francfort, then more and more and more. I could not write and document what was going on as fast as they were making it. I got Laurent to slow down enough to talk me through the sausage du Francfort (frankfurters). This was the one thing I really needed to see. Emulsified sausages are really tricky, you have to suspend the fat in the protein and if you fail, there is no way to recover, it is all for naught. Watching him make this made me feel better, he made it look so easy (I need to remember to re-read these words as I try to make them in Gil’s); simple 12 kilo of belly and shoulder, emulsifying agents and 3 kilos of ice, pureed, pureed some more, till it stretches like bread dough and then stuffed into lambs intestines.
When finished and air dried for a couple of hours they are boiled. When you grab one between your fingers and bent it, it snaps in two: literally snaps you can hear it. Laurent said that when he was in America he would always hear people say that if you knew what was in a hot dog, you would not eat them. Here at his place there is only belly and shoulder and he smiled and said “if you knew what was in these, you would eat more”. While all this is going on, this wonderful kid name Jonathan was stirring this huge vat of boiling pig skin. Then dutifully picking apart pig’s heads (munching on spare little bits all the while), peeling pig tongues with a potato peeler and then forming these amazing terrines of head cheese. Did I mention aspic? I have never seen so much aspic in my life. There were so many different types of terrines, all slathered in aspic. Every single bit of the pig was used and then re-used and just for fun used again.
Laurent spoke impeccable English and his wife impeccable French. The number two man in the kitchen (Laurent’s right hand) was this incredibly talented guy named Nicolas.
Laurent was in charge of the production of sausages and running the front counter when the two ladies got too swamped. I could not tell the difference between incredibly busy and swamped, they always seemed to be swamped. The intercom never stopped barking for re-supply orders. Nicolas also spoke impeccable English and was always moving, but he had time to talk me through what was going on. I think Laurent told him to do so. It just struck me how absolutely genuine everyone in that kitchen was. Every single person was awesome and no one had an ego. For a couple of days I got to really hang out with Nicolas. I have made terrines, some forcemeat and sausages, but not on an industrial scale like this. I knew where the holes in my knowledge were, I just needed to see it in action. I picked up more in those couple of days than I would have in a month of trial and error in Gil’s. Nicolas knew the questions I was asking and being a chef knew how to answer them. It would be impossible to adequately express my appreciation to all of the crew at Charcuterie Chibaudo, most importantly Laurent and Nicolas. I am so thankful that they opened their house to me, I know what a big deal that is for a chef to do so. Laurent should be very proud of what he has accomplished. Even as I write this I am in awe of what he and his crew does on a daily basis.
As I left Chibaudo, I remembered that Jean-Francois asked me to bring some andiouellettes home and I did so diligently. After days of watching all of this wonderful belly and shoulder being made into amazing sausages, I was more than excited to finally enjoy some of them. As he was cooking them I looked up the type of sausage on the internet, because I had not witnessed these big, fat sausages being made. Wikipedia said that “andiouellette is definitely an acquired taste and to the uninitiated the smell of them cooking is repulsive”. About this time the aroma began to hit my nose and the sausage burst from the skin, sending a wave of scent that turned my stomach into a knot. I asked what Jean-Francois what was in them and he replied simply “you know, guts”. Very coarsely chopped guts. Then I realized that I had a ten inch gut sausage that I had to deal with. Where was the wonderful Perruginas, or Toulouse or even Francfort??? I made myself a deal that there was nothing, absolutely nothing I would not eat on this trip. I would be damned if I was gonna look like a queasy American if front of Jean-Francois, after all he had done for me. We pulled the sausages (Jean-Francois was pissed they burst from the skin) threw in some shallots into the fat, deglazed with white wine and added mustard and served them with steamed potatoes. The smell was unreal, like stinky feet with an edge of that sweetness of glands. The first bite, mainly due to the intense smell was tough and I learned that coarsely chopped tripe tickles the throat as you swallow. But it was really, really good. It was the same sensation I had when eating my first really, really ripe Camembert. That intense smell is overpowering, but it was awesome. Eating tradition French is more mental than anything. It may seem strange to our palate, which has only seen prime cuts for the last 50 years. The French do not eat bad food period. They do not eat anything that is not super tasty. They would not eat andouillette (and Ghibaudo would not sell 50 of them a day) it they were not good. No matter how good they really are, I do not think we will try to sell them at Gil’s. No sense shooting ourselves in the foot right out of the gates: belly and shoulder, belly and shoulder.