[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.”

[Recipe] Pan-Roasted 1/2 Poulet Rouge Chicken with Giardiniera

Pan-Roasted 1/2 Poulet Rouge Chicken at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink -- a classic on both lunch and dinner menus.

Pan-Roasted 1/2 Poulet Rouge Chicken at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink — a classic on both lunch and dinner menus (Photo by Ella Schwartz)

Ever since Michael flew to North Carolina in 2010 to meet Ron Joyce, it’s been a chicken love fest.  Joyce Farms is our supplier of Poulet Rouge Fermier chicken at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and The Cypress Room, a heritage French farm breed that Joyce brought to the U.S. as the exclusive North American producer.  The Redbro Cou Nu, or red feathered naked neck, is known for its superior taste, better meat texture and a thinner skin that finishes very crispy compared to most chickens.  And, as Michael saw firsthand, Joyce complements nature with nurture, raising the flock on small Carolina farms and allowing them to grow slowly and mature naturally than conventional factory farmed chicken. They roam free or take comfort out of the weather in cooled or heated areas.

Saveur Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Feature

Michael showed the love in a recent issue of Saveur for Joyce Farms and this beautiful bird!

Says sous chef Michael Beltran of The Cypress Room, “Joyce’s poultry is by far some of the most consistent, high quality product I have ever had, which is so important to us in the kitchen.”  Beltran and chef de cuisine Roel Alcudia now also source beef tenderloin from Joyce Farms for the restaurant.  Beltran continues, “It’s got to be the best flavor I’ve ever gotten out of a grass fed beef.  Cooked medium rare, it’s buttery and you get a touch of game but it’s not overwhelming. I’ve never had anything quite like it.  It’s the most perfect filet. Right now we’re serving it at dinner with long beans, creamed kale, marble potato and radish.”  Looks like we have our next recipe, chef!

Today we offer Michael’s Pan-Roasted technique with Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink chef de cuisine Niven Patel’s current set up for the menu – giardiniera. Giardiniera is an Italian or Italian-American relish of pickled vegetables in vinegar or oil. Italian giardiniera is also called sottaceti (“under vinegar”), a common term for pickled foods. Typically eaten as an antipasto or with salads, the Italian version includes peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower and gherkins marinated in oil, red- or white-wine vinegar, herbs and spices. In Chicago, they like it hot or mild, sometimes with crushed red pepper flakes. Giardiniera is a very versatile condiment – even for chicken!


The Cypress Room features Poulet Rouge in its Daily Rotisserie with Market Vegetables for both lunch and dinner.

If you can’t splurge for the Poulet Rouge, available from Joyce’s website, a great naturally-raised bird will do just fine.  This is one of those dishes where patronizing a local butcher, instead of a chain grocery store, will mean success. To halve and bone a couple of chickens is not an easy task, so leave it to the experts. Be specific with your butcher: request boneless chicken halves, meaning the first joint of the wing is clipped off and the only bone in the bird is the one that attaches the lower part of the wing to the breast, also known as an “airline”. As an alternative, buy boneless chicken parts. There aren’t a lot of ingredients to this dish; it really is all about the quality of chicken and couple of well-seasoned cast iron skillets. To get the super crispy skin, it is imperative that the chicken lies flat in the pan.

Pan-Roasted 1/2 Poulet Rouge Chicken with Giardiniera

Serves 4

2, 3-pound Poulet Rouge chickens, halved and boned, skin on, or 3 pounds boneless chicken parts, skin on, preferably free-range
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
Long Bean Giardiniera (Recipe Below)

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place 2 cast-iron or heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillets over high heat; cast-iron will yield a crispier skin. Season the chickens generously with salt and pepper; you should see the seasoning on the meat. Coat each pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil gets hazy, lay the chicken halves in the pans, skin-side down. It’s super important to make sure the chicken lies flat and all of the skin is in contact with the pan. Cook until the skin starts to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not move the chicken or the skin will tear. Transfer the pans to the oven and roast until the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a warm platter, skin-side up. To make a quick pan sauce, pour out the excess fat from the pan drippings. Place the pan over two burners set on medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of wine to each pan. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits stuck to bottom of pan. Add a tablespoon of butter to each, stirring to melt, and sprinkle with parsley.

To serve, lay a half roasted chicken on top of each plate, skin-side up. Drizzle with the pan sauce and top with a mound of giardiniera.

Long Bean Giardiniera

Yields 4 quarts

3 pints of long beans, cut into 4-inch spears
1 pint of diced carrots
2 cups diced celery diced
2 serrano peppers, shaved
1 medium yellow onion, shaved
1 cup of kosher salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

In a large bowl, add long beans, carrots, celery, peppers and onions. Dissolve salt in 3 pints of water, and pour over vegetables. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit 8 hours. Thoroughly rinse, dry, and return to bowl adding cider and white vinegar, olive oil, canola oil, oregano, and garlic and marinate overnight. It’s ready to serve the next day!

Jet Setting French Chicks

Ron Joyce and a two week old chick.

As mentioned in August, Michael took a trip to North Carolina to visit with our Poulet Rouge supplier, Joyce Farms, the first to develop a breeder flock and produce this French heritage chicken stateside.  The trip solidified why we buy chicken from them exclusively, and why more restaurants need to do the same.   Superior taste isn’t reason alone.

Michael shared some of his experience with the staff at pre-shift, including what he learned from owner Ron Joyce about the paltry state of the poultry industry in America and how he’s doing his part to turn things around.  When Michael shared that the number of industrial chickens processed in the U.S. is about 175 million weekly, compared to Joyce Farms’ 4,000, I had to know more.  I reached out to Ron with some questions, and he obliged.

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