[VIDEO] Field Report: Old Spot, New Tricks at Joyce Farms

Heritage Black Turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Is it sustainable?, you ask, head deep in today’s buzzword feedbag.  But what if we can do better than simply maintain?  Ron Joyce doesn’t just think we can, he does.  His agriculture alphabet begins with regeneration, and it is as preventative as it is progressive.  In October, we flew to American swine farm capital North Carolina (second to Iowa) to learn exactly how.  What followed was the most unconventional and scientifically surprising farm tour you just couldn’t dream up.

Knowing where our food comes from, although sometimes difficult to experience for better and worse, is essential if we are to do things better.  Being informed is absolutely the only way to be, especially in this business where the decisions we make on food sourcing affect what thousands of people a day put in their bodies.  To make good on this vision for how Michael does business, visiting suppliers is something we try to do as much as possible.  When we get an invitation like Ron’s, to enhance a trip with education, it’s impossible to pass up and something worth sharing with the next generation of cooks.  For Chef, that’s son Harry Schwartz.  From soil university and rainfall simulation, to population restoration and integration through genetic selection of heritage breeds, Dr. Alan Williams near blew off each of our thinking caps — from rooter to tooter as they say in those parts!

Me, Brad, Chef and Harry Schwartz.

The Joyce Farms approach is common sense and begins in a place all chefs can relate to.  How do we get best flavor from an animal?  The answer is simple – natural animal, not bred to be factory farmed on cheap grain and restricted conditions, begets natural flavor and nutritional value.  We last spoke with Ron for the blog about his Aberdeen Angus program.  Today we share our tour of farmer Adam Grady’s Dark Branch Farm in Kenansville, NC to see it in action.  Grady is also raising Joyce’s heritage hog of choice, the Gloucestershire Old Spot.  The timing couldn’t have been more opportune — with the area still reeling from Hurricane Florence, the flood recovery process was an object lesson all its own.

Watch and learn here, and look for more menu items to come at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink as the season changes and we continue to evolve our efforts at product sourcing as a growing business.

Joyce to the World of Grass-Fed Beef

From soil health to genetics, North Carolina-based Joyce Farms does grass-fed beef right, because that’s the only way Ron Joyce knows. Standing behind the tasty intersection of tradition, science and passion, Joyce’s energy is palpable through the phone as we recount how a jet-setting French chick became a worldwide calling to find lost heritage breeds and do the work to raise them the way they’re supposed to be raised.

“No day is ever the same,” he says. “We were in meetings on Friday, and then I saw your missed call.  It’s one foot in this year and one foot in the next.”

In November, Amara at Paraiso chef Michael Paley and senior sous Max Makowski paid Joyce Farms a visit to check in on his product mix and talk sourcing for our new restaurant’s menu including dry-aged grass-fed ribeye.  So for about a month now, I’ve been wanting to catch up with this man behind one of the most exciting ranching operations in the U.S.  It’s been much longer than that since we last connected — on Michael’s first visit in 2010 to get acquainted with the now so familiar bird on the Michael’s Genuine menu — Poulet Rouge.  Joyce left one of those impressions that sticks with you, though.  Something in his voice rang true.  Genuine…  The same voice greeted me on the phone last week, but with news to share about the his consortium of farms, the company’s focused growth and his current projects that have our ears perked.

“People eat our beef and they can’t believe the flavor. They also can’t believe it’s raised 100% on grass,” he says. “I cringe when my friends say it’s rough and you have to get used to the difference in taste. Most grass-fed beef isn’t appetizing, because it’s complicated to produce, and most are doing it wrong. This is unfortunate of course for everyone trying to do it right.”

Aberdeen Angus

Doing it right we learn is more scientific than we could have ever imagined, not to mention more expensive.  Ron explains that people tend to forget grain has been status quo since WWII. Corn is cheap, but it’s not natural and collateral damage included a shift in fat content from unsaturated to saturated, an increase in the presence of E. coli, and a change in the pH of the meat.

“When Michael Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it was a game changer,” Joyce says. “Demand outpaced supply for grass-fed.  People were gravitating to it for the health benefits, like better Omega 6 to 3 ratio.”

The whole thing started with Poulet Rouge, and Joyce blames his father, who was with another livestock company in the ’50s and ’60s.  He would talk about how disappointed he was in how chicken had changed.

“As a younger person I put that off thinking this is about a guy getting older lamenting about the past and ‘the good old days’,” he explains.  “But then other people started saying the same thing. And then I went to France which changed everything. It made me realize that people don’t remember here in the States how it used to be.  Only the older folks do!”

Joyce explains that in Europe, they’re called industrial chickens, and most butcher shops, a fixture in every neighborhood, don’t sell industrial.  “You have a choice over there, and in many ways that’s the short term goal here.”

Chef Paley, chef Max and the team at Amara during one of four preview dinners this week. With the Art Basel pop-up wrapped, it’s time to shift gears for opening in January.

This chicken problem was the problem that got him started, and the French helped him chose the Label Rouge, a naked neck bird with thin skin at half the thickness of its industrial counterparts that renders crispy. It took Joyce a while to break even, but after they made these birds sustainable the question was naturally, what else?  In America it has been cheap and large for decades. The meat and poultry is market driven here.  It’s a give-the-people-what-they-want mentality that can be poison for a food system.  And labels aren’t helping.  They can be downright misleading. Free-range this, and pastured that.  Semantics, however, mean something.  They can mean everything. They can create a movement, even.

“Chefs were asking do you know anyone doing great grass-fed?,” he continues. “They would say how they’d get requests, and then dishes would be sent back! Feedback was that it tasted gamey and livery. Something wasn’t right and I knew it didn’t have to be that way. Then we found Allen.”

Disillusioned with what universities were researching and teaching on big Ag’s dime, this farmer, Dr. Allen Williams gathered a band of rebels and dropped out of the system to form a consultancy and started working on cattle.  They found that the genetics in the animal had changed to be efficient on corn.

Allen Williams, Joyce’s soil guy.

“The animals simply didn’t do well on grass anymore,” Joyce explains. “Everything in a pasture has a purpose. If you plant a monoculture, one kind of grass and the grass is too green you get minerals and that off-putting taste. Fertilizer kills all the natural organic matter, especially weeds which are a natural dewormer.”

With no choice but to go back to the trough, a farm can get sucked into a viscous cycle that eventually kills everything. Soil becomes compacted. It loses the ability to absorb water, so there’s runoff and loss of top soil. “Animals have a strong sense of what they need to eat it, but if it’s not there.”

No grain finishing here, just fire for the Aberdeen Angus ribeye.

Now the company’s genetics and foraging expert, Dr. Williams is a sixth generation farmer and holds a B.S. and M.S. in Animal Science from Clemson University and a
Ph.D. in Genetics & Reproductive Physiology from LSU.  He has focused on soil and regenerative farming techniques to develop a grazing cocktail for the cattle comprised of 18-24 different plants including legume. Happy cows indeed. In three years, they were able to lower impact costs and eliminate use of pesticides and insecticides. This is not what your extension agent is telling you to do. This is not only maintaining soil health through a natural process, but restoring pastures to the way it used to be.  Bison will be next, the ultimate expression of this principle, because of course, prairie animals don’t belong on feed lots and there are only a handful of suppliers even doing grass.  Joyce will be field harvesting, because bison don’t like to be handled and agitation manifests bad flavors in the final product.  It’s a full-on, holistic approach to the entire ecosystem around commercial livestock and a commitment to doing it right.

“This doesn’t work if you grab a jug every time you see a pest. You have to rethink what that bug is,” he reflects.  “It’s not actually a pest. It’s an insect, and the good ones out number the bad.”

Hitting Our Menus Now: Three New Sandwiches at MGFD, Plus Harry’s Daily Dinner Specials

Chef de cuisine Bradley Herron getting down to business this past Saturday at MGFD; the only day we are closed for lunch for catch-up and prep.

As you know by now, the way the kitchen works at MGFD is that everyday we usually verbal — i.e. don’t print on menu — anywhere from two to sometimes four or even five (since we like to count dessert!) new dishes.  These usually 86 by the next day to be replaced with more new items based on what ingredients are coming in season, and start it all over again. We don’t know those until the day of and they have a day or two days life cycle at most.  Sometimes these new dishes are printed, as are little changes to items that have been around for a while, like the burrata salad, which gets figs when local heirloom tomatoes seas ends in summer.

The not so po’ boy.

So I guess what I’m getting  at is that we when do get printed changes to the menu, it’s kind of a big deal!  Great news, for us here in the office at least since we eat lunch at Michael’s more than any other meal, is that we are currently rolling out updates to the sandwich section. The Banh Mi, pronounced bang me for those of you who have not been to Vietnam (echem @stevebm,) with its crispy pork belly meeting creamy pate and some pickled veg and herbs of all sorts to cut it, is a regular verbal special now getting some ink.  The newcomer stealing the show however has to be Crispy Florida Shrimp with preserved meyer lemon remoulade, frisée, and heirloom tomato. There’s a little heat in the schmear and matched with the juicy acidity of tomato and fresh, slightly bitter crunch of frisse on a toasty baguette… well… it just hits the spot and won our hearts at first bite.  Check out the rest of the sandwiches on the lunch menu here. I hear there are more to come.

Last night’s daily dinner special at Harry’s.

This week Harry’s Pizzeria rings the dinner bell, rolling out a new section on its menu featuring daily dinner specials that highlight a new protein each night. Flawlessly executed by chef de cuisine Manny Sulbaran, these family-style portions include Monday’s Wood Oven Roasted 1/2 Poulet Rouge with salsa verde and fennel slaw and tonight’s Braised Short Ribs with peperonata sauce and orzo salad.  We even have new menus, from placemat to folded, to accommodate the new section!  I’ll be taking pictures and posting them each night at preshift on Harry’s website, so keep your eyes peeled and stop by with some friends to share them!

Later this week we’ll tackle drinks, including our homemade sodas as investigated by our Bread & Butter contributor Emily Codik, and from moi, new spirits beverage director Ryan Goodspeed has added to bulk up MGFD’s already bourbon-friendly bar.  Cheers!

Daily Dinner Specials Begin Monday, June 18 at Harry’s Pizzeria

Ready… Set… Daily Dinner Specials!  A week from today, chef de cuisine Manny Sulbaran will roll out a schedule of weekday dinner dishes at Harry’s, each $18.   Our graphics design intern and Miami Ad school student Junior Narvaez, responsible for Harry’s creative identity, is designing new, foldable menus to make room for them.  Set your calendar reminders now!  As you can see from the photo above, my favorite day is going to be Monday.  Who woulda thunk it possible?!  What’s your favorite day?

Monday
Wood Oven ½ Roasted Poulet Rouge Chicken, salsa verde & fennel slaw

Tuesday
Braised Short Ribs, peperonata sauce & orzo salad

Wednesday
Crispy Lamb shank, balsamic onions & giardineira

Thursday
“Frito” Pork, mojo & calabza hash

Friday
Local Fish in Cartoccio
Tomato, fingerling potato, lemon, onion & white wine

Harry’s Special Trifecta

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We always look forward to the specials at Harry’s Pizzeria.  Today is a prime example. Chef de Cuisine Manny Sulbaran placed an order for a regular in the MGFD kitchen, whole Poulet Rouge  heritage breed chickens (“I get to have fun, too!”), and the trifecta happened.  That’s when all three menu items have verbal specials: a pizza, soup, and snack. Today’s are all killer!  The pizza and soup both feature tender strips of this old world bird’s roasted white and dark meat.  The pie takes a Tex Mex spin with creamy cooling slices of local Lula avocado (that forager Chris Padin delivered from Homestead on Tuesday,) a sturdy, curdy layer of fontina cheese, green onion, picked jalapeno, and cilantro. Soup is a steamy, clear-as-can-be broth of shaved fennel, white onions, and parsley. MGFD line cook Danny Ramirez came over yesterday and made the kitchen smell like his grandmother’s by whipping up her special mojo marinade for today’s special crispy pork belly snack with papaya chutney and shaved zucchini.  Come in while they last, which should be through dinner service tonight if they are not 86 before then!