Soft, Milk Chocolate Candied Apple… or, Candied Bull’s Testicle?
When Fergus Henderson opened St John restaurant, in London in 1994 it was a shrine to, what writer Adam Gopnik would call in a New Yorker article, the ‘odd bit’s of ordinary animals’. It was a restaurant that embraced the less wasteful, mindful, and more commonsense approach of using the whole animal, not just the familiar, more desirable parts.
For me, I was weaned early. My mother, who’s catchphrase is still ‘waste not, want not’ fed me lamb’s tongue casserole when we were young, when Summer’s were endless, and we used to scoff down small cups of it, as we bounced around in the back of her chartreusse Fiat, (without seatbelts).
Getting to dine at the restaurant St John had always been elusive to me, until a few years ago, when I was sent to Brussels, last minute, to shoot the singer Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas). When we merged from the tiny, cool, underground studio, I immediately called my Travel Rep, cancelled my flight back to New York, and quickly hopped a Eurostar to London. In a few short hours I was standing in front of St. John. I roped in my brother, who was living in England at the time (and would order the Devilled Lamb Kidney’s), and there we were. St John! Oh, Bone Marrow Salad, come to me!
The truth is, we really need to look for ways to eat the whole beast and nothing but the whole beast. It’s rather wasteful to kill an animal, and eat only half of it, throwing out the rest. When did we decide that Skirt Steak was OK? But Beef Spleen was not? Is it just familiarity that makes us OK with Chicken Liver Paté, but not Chicken kidney Paté?
Inspired by attending the traveling pork competition, Cochon 555, where I tried the ‘Pig’s Blood Popsicle’ from chef Brad Farmerie. I wanted to create a shoot where the theme was offal, but done sweetly. Like how to elevate the ugly, often discarded pieces of the animal, but ‘sugar coat it’—if you will, and do it in a way that would render them candied, thus making them acceptable—even enticing?
When it came to discussing what we wanted to shoot, the list was endless. We bantered about things like ‘Foie Gras Toffee Apple’ (which would be Chicken Liver Paté stuffed inside an apple, fried and then coated with drippy toffee). Haggis Hard Candy, (Turkish delight in powdered Haggis seasoning) and plenty of other delicious and different ways to sweeten up ‘the awful’. Brain infused sno-cone, anyone?
Maggie Ruggiero concepted the food, and her brilliance is in every step. I wanted there to be an intellectual jump between what someone thinks it is… and what it really is. “Oh, how sweet.. Candy apples…and then Oh, that’s not an apple…” and then hopefully a cool acceptance of the steps we need to take to make the whole animal palatable. Marcus Nilsson was the awesome and obvious choice to shoot this, and thanks to Carla Gonzalez-Hart who’s deft, but light propping touch, let the food take center stage, which was exactly where it needed to be.
I wanted to walk the tightrope between what we think we see, and what’s really there. Confront what might be disgusting to some, but to others, an eye opening realization of what the next necessary step is, in considering the entirety of the animal as a food item—and coming up with ways to make it delicious. “Rachael Ray; a week in one day“? How about ‘Rachael Ray; A pig’s ear done 5 ways”? That’s a TV show I’d tune in to see.
Crackerjacks… or, Toffeed Sweetbreads with Nuts?
Cotton candy (or Fairy floss)… or, bathed Pig’s Snout in Aniseed and Honey, wrapped in spun Sugar?
Candied ‘dots’ from childhood… or, fresh Chicken Hearts dipped in 3 colors of warm melted Chocolate.
Simple snow cone… or, Tripe cone with Brain-infused colored ice?
Offal for this shoot was generously provided by Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats. Opening early fall in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
To watch a video of chef Brad Farmerie, making his pig’s blood popsicles, click here.
To get information of St John restaurant in London, click here.
To learn about Cochon 555, click here.
To get a copy of Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast; Nose to Tail Eating click here.