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Monday, May 2, 2016

That amazing ... pork

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Collin Alevras, owner of The Tasting Room in New York City, strolled through the line at the Newman's Cuban style barbecue in Myrtle, Mo., June 16. The meal was prepared by Reinaldo Alfonso of the Chez Phillippe restaurant at The Peabody in Memphis. Photo by Jody Shackelford
The Newman Farm in Myrtle, Mo., is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, but June 16 some of the top chefs in America flew in from places such as Las Vegas, San Francisco and the Big Apple itself -- New York City, all in the name of pork.

Chef de cuisine, Reinaldo Alfonso of The Peabody's Chez Philippe restaurant was in the kitchen of the Newman's rustic log cabin style home to prepare a Cuban style barbecue to celebrate the occasion as the group of chefs toured the farm to see how their pork is produced.

In the culinary world of heavy hitters, these chefs top the roster.

Mark Ladner, protégé of Mario Batali and chef/partner at Lupa and Otto in Manhattan was the very first supporter of Heritage Foods USA, said Patrick Martins founder of Heritage Foods USA, who acts as the distributor of Newman Farm's Berkshire pork to top restaurants across the country.

Fellow chef, Zach Allen, owner of Carnevino, Enoteca San Marco and B&B Ristorante all of Las Vegas was also on hand.

Nate Appleman, owner of SPQR and A16, both rustic Italian restaurants in San Francisco and Anna Klinger, who owns the restaurant Al Di Lá with her Venetian husband, Emiliano Coppa, in New York City, was also in attendance for the event.

Mark Newman along with his family led the chefs on a tour of the farm showcasing the natural and organic nature of his farming method.

Collin Alevras owner of The Tasting Room in New York City spoke with The News about pork, good food and life on the island -- Manhattan Island.

"I have traveled around the country quite a bit so this is not unfamiliar, even though I don't get to travel all that much. It is just kind of funny to think there is nothing nearby. Between where I live, the restaurant and the farmers market where I buy just about all the stuff that we cook, (that area) is probably smaller than the area of this farm except there is a million people there," Alevras said.

The area of Manhattan where Alevras lives is like its own community, he said.

"For me, where we are downtown, it is kind of small town like. The buildings aren't really over five stories, so they are smaller comparatively to the rest of the city. It's not sky scrapers and a lot of the people have lived there for a long time. So, I know my neighbors. Before we lived on Third Street, I lived on Seventh Street. So, I see all the same people. The kids go to the same schools, so you see all the same parents. So, it doesn't feel big," Alevras said.

"Manhattan is, relatively speaking, small. You can walk across it in 40 minutes. It is only two miles wide and 20 miles long. New York is big because you have the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and that area is kind of sprawling and large but Manhattan is tiny," he said.

The walk from Alevras's apartment to his restaurant only takes about 10 minutes. "I don't own a car because parking is a pain in the a--. I had a car but I got rid of it," he said.

Each day Alevras travels to the farmers market to purchase his ingredients but there was a time when that source of goods was not available.

"The main farmers market in New York City is in a place called Union Square. It is a park downtown. They originally put up a farmers market in the late 70s. They were trying to figure out how New Yorkers could preserve farmland. The answer was to buy products from farmers. The park in Union Square was in a horrible state in about 1978. It really was scary," he said.

"Part of the reason why they wanted the farmers market to come in there was to help kick out the junkies and just occupy the park with people doing legitimate business. The farmers that went in there had to carry baseball bats and fight off people. They were getting ripped off all the time and now it is safe and so different from then," he said.

With the positive change that came to Union Square and the new availability of fresh produce to citizens and chefs alike, Alevras said there were some who opposed the idea saying the park should just be for people and not a place of commerce.

"Somebody is going to complain about something," he said.

All the ingredients put into Alevras' culinary creations are grown or raised on small family farms and hand selected each day from the Union Square farmers market to ensure The Tasting Room serves the freshest fare to its patrons.

The Tasting Room serves a variety of interesting pallet pleasers including selections such as Foie Gras with Pears and Brioche to Dark Venezuelan Chocolate and Fruit.

"Appetizers range in price from $10 to $20 depending on what it is. Entrees probably go from $15 to $50," he said.

There is no argument that the price of living is much higher in New York than in Myrtle, from food to housing.

Alevras said he got a good deal when he purchased new living quarters. "I spent $250,000 for a 550-square-foot apartment and that was cheap," he said.

There is a quick and simple answer to why Alevras came across the country to visit the Newman Farm, "Good pork, flat out," he said.

"It's the Berkshire pig. They haven't bred the life out of it. The Newman's are really doing a great job in having a good supply of something we feel good purchasing," he said.

Along with the Berkshire pig, the Ossabaw hog is a favorite of the culinary world, Alevras said.

The hogs of Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, are descendants of Spanish pigs brought to the New World over 400 years ago. They were small range pigs with prick ears, heavy coats and long snouts. Over time, some of the Spanish pigs escaped and became feral in southeastern forests. While most feral pigs eventually mixed with domestic pigs, the Ossabaw Island animals are an exception, having remained a distinct and isolated population.

The hogs developed a unique biochemical system of fat metabolism, enabling them to store a larger proportion of fat than any other hog, according to the University of Oklahoma.

"Non-industrial agriculture is important to us. I buy my fish from a dude that goes out in his boat off Long Island and he catches whatever he catches and comes to the farmers market," Alevras said.

The large feedlots of industrial meat production are not Alevras' idea of good food and he said animals raised in that way couldn't compare to the pork raised on the Newman Farm. "That s--- is gross. Do you really want to eat that crap? I know people love their cheap meat but it's disgusting," he said. "I don't need to eat meat everyday if I can just eat this meat when I eat it."

Martins, who inspired the trip to Myrtle, praised the chefs and the Newman family saying he was proud to be a part of preserving the traditional values and methods of the small farm producer.

"These chefs are very impressive. I can safely say this is the first non-commodity pork supply that is available nationally. That is because of this connection; the chefs and visiting the Newman family," Martins said. "We are doing our best to represent the Ozarks in all its glory around the country."

With the light fading and a full stomach the chefs were treated to an authentic southern evening on the porch, complete with the intermittent flicker of fireflies, laughter and the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar.

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