Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kocurek Charcuterie Documentary

Huge kudos to local filmmaker Christian Remde, who just posted his excellent documentary on Larry and Lee Ann Kocurek, as part of his 12 Films Project. I wrote about Kocurek Family Charcuterie earlier in the Austin Chronicle. Here is the web address to Christian's film:

...and here is the text of my previous review of their charcuterie:

Kocurek Family Charcuterie
The Fresh and the Cured

Larry Kocurek comes from a long line of Tex-Czech sausagemakers, with two generations of Bohemian relatives before him hunting deer and making sausages around Gon­zal­es, Texas. He met his wife, Lee Ann, in culinary school. "I used to tell him he was going to turn into a sausage. That's all he ever wanted to eat," she says. Over the ensuing years, she earned pastry and sommelier degrees, he graduated with cooking school honors, and they moved around for years learning and polishing their crafts in fine-dining restaurants, eventually ending up in Austin.

Lee Ann made gorgeous pastries as an assistant to David Bull at the Driskill, and then went to the Austin Wine Merchant to consult and manage. Larry was executive chef at Roy's for years before becoming Whole Foods' senior culinary instructor. For the past seven years, he's been researching and perfecting his sausage and charcuterie recipes, refining his butchering skills, and connecting with local sources. The Kocureks personally know who produces their ingredients. All the meats are local, free-range, all-natural, and heritage breeds when possible, and all of the fresh produce is seasonal, organic, and local. "I started getting into real food when I was at Roy's, and they had a wine cellar that was perfect for curing meats," says Kocurek. "The wine guys hated it, but the temperature and humidity were ideal."

Larry and Lee Ann have been making charcuterie professionally for a year and a half, and their business continues to expand. "We decided that we wanted to have fun making a living, doing what we liked to do," says Lee Ann. They currently sell their products at the six major Austin farmers markets, and they hope to soon add the extremely popular Pearl Farmers Market in San Antonio to that list. They also present two cooking classes a month and put on a quarterly supper club. The hands-on cooking classes range from venison, pig, and duck butchering (which also cover some elements of charcuterie) to classic French sauce classes. Each class ends with a buffet centered on what's been taught that day, and they all sell out in advance. The supper club is held at Swoop House, the inviting 1924 Craftsman-era location of 2 Dine 4 Fine Catering's commissary kitchen in East Austin. "They're five- to eight-course themed dinners that can be from any region of the world," says Lee Ann. "Everything is all organic and local. Starched linens, formal wine service, interesting folks sitting at communal tables, and always some element of our charcuterie involved ... it's a lot of work, but a lot of fun as well."

In March, the Kocureks will be expanding their commercial kitchen space, gaining a large walk-in cooler. "Once we have that cooler, we can start doing cured products and concentrate a lot more on wholesale to local restaurants," says Larry. "Now we make primarily fresh products, but we constantly do small test batches of cured product so that we're ready when the time comes." Another future plan is to host three- and four-day camping and hunting excursions to game ranches around the state. "This will be the real deal, Old World style," says Lee Ann. "Sleeping in tents, incredible food around the campfire, tracking and hunting, dressing and butchering the kill. You'll be out in nature, not staying in some hotel. We're real excited about getting these trips going."

I was lucky enough to attend a weekly tasting, held for the staff so they can personally describe the offerings to the market customers each week. Larry laid out a spread of many products, and we began to taste and critique. The fresh venison sausage is superlative: coarse-textured, vibrantly spiced, moist, and not the least bit gamey. The game boudin of venison and pork with Louisiana rice has a spicy cayenne kick. The cured venison sausage is dark, deeply rich, and tangy, and absolutely wonderful when accented by the grainy mustard that's made with beer yeast.

Their Czech-style bacon is smoky and exuberantly piggy. The lean smoked-duck bacon made from the breast magically blends the worlds of duck and pork belly. The "Christmas" or "Charles Dickens" chicken sausage made with cream and brandy is moist and rich, and it's even better when combined with their amazing apple-caramelized-onion marmalade. The chicken sausage turned out to be the best I've ever had: medium-textured, spiced with balance, and surprisingly moist, accented by a dab of the Love Creek apple butter. Pork rillettes schmeared on crusty bread literally melt in your mouth. A spoonful of the velvety chicken-and-duck-liver pâté de maison on a cracker makes me instantly forget how much I hate liver. There are two flaky English-style tarts: one with silky slices of braised tongue and chard, the other made with duck, venison, and greens. We demolished the tasting board, with the group reduced to primal grunts and groans of pleasure.

"The selection changes with the seasons and our whims," says Larry. "One week it might be Southeast Asia and France, the next week, Poland and Spain. We just try to have fun and make our customers very happy." Like Larry, I have a deep culinary fondness for sausages, and after sampling a wide variety, I can honestly say the Kocureks are highly skilled in the art of making delicious charcuterie and producing bold and balanced flavors. Go to the farmers' market; you really need to try this stuff.MV - 12/24/2010

Remde also did a fabulous film on Bryce Gilmore's Odd Duck Farm to Trailer:

...which I also reviewed for the Austin Chronicle (text here):

Odd Duck Farm to Trailer
1219 S. Lamar, 695-6922
Tuesday-Saturday, 5pm until sold out

Bryce Gilmore's Odd Duck is on the east side of South Lamar at Treadwell Street, a block or so north of the big Genie Car Wash, in a culinary trailer park teamed with Austin Brevità and Gourdough's (see "Gourdough's," Jan. 15). The three food operations share a central pea-graveled dining area, with assorted chairs and tables (some with umbrellas), strings of fairy lights, and a small outbuilding for the restrooms.

Odd Duck occupies an older, wooden, burnt-orange-and-white trailer (Bryce and Jack are huge UT sports fans) with a wood-burning grill inside, along with all of the cooking amenities you'd expect in a small restaurant kitchen. You order at the window, and a charming waitress delivers your food on a cafeteria tray, artfully arranged and presented in cardboard boats and paper plates. It's BYO beer and wine, tax is included in the price, and credit cards are accepted.

Portions are small yet sharable and amazingly affordable for the quality of the ingredients, all of which are sourced from local producers and farmers' markets. The philosophy of Odd Duck is fresh, seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, use of the whole animal, and a market-based menu that changes daily. The flavors are rich, assertive, and balanced, the technique creative.

A pal and I (both of us decidedly on the husky side and blessed with big appetites) decided to order the entire menu and see if we were sated after we finished. We started with a nice, crunchy bruschetta topped with big chunks of sweet beet and a nicely balancing, tart goat's milk feta, crowned with a peppery arugula salad ($4). Next, we split a rich dish of poached duck egg topped with tiny spears of sweet asparagus, slivers of scallion and mushroom, and goat's milk ricotta ($6). It was delicious and needed only a light sprinkling of salt.

The drop-dead dish of the meal was a combination of tiny grilled brussels sprouts, capers, and lardoons of marinated, rabbit belly, all garnished with a shredded, nutty-tasting cheese ($4). Sounds simple, but it was a brilliant combination of tastes. We tried the grits, which were mixed with small kernels of sweet corn and cheddar cheese, topped with a poached farm egg, braised mushrooms, and steamed greens ($6). This was the one dish that we felt could have used an element to punch it up a bit, but it was still quite good.

A large grilled crouton accompanied cubes of slow-roasted pork leg topped with an exquisite sweet onion and kale slaw ($6). It could only be improved by shredding the pork, to mix better with the slaw. A mouthwatering, semiboneless, marinated, and grilled quail arrived next atop red potato cubes, bits of salumi, and a rich, garlicky aioli ($6). The crowning touch was the pork belly slider. Several thick slices of savory, succulent, and meaty pork belly sit between a grilled brioche bun, dressed with pickled onion and carrot ($6). It's a masterpiece rivaled only by the brussels sprouts.

We think the Odd Duck concept is a huge success, with Gilmore and crew turning out gorgeous and delicious kaiseki-like small plates bursting with flavor and freshness. We both were full and very satisfied, we felt the price point was fair, and food doesn't get any fresher. Now the brussels sprouts and the pork belly slider both compete for dish of the year on our list. MV - 5/14/2010

Also check out Remde's doc on Bryce's new operation, Barley Swine:

Bryce Gilmore's Barley Swine

...and lastly, visit Remde's website here:

Great ATX food, and great ATX films re: same!