Chef Alex Young Talks About Building a Local Supply Chain for Roadhouse Meats
What are you most excited about this upcoming year?
Sourcing local meat. Preparing barbecue everyday means that we cook with a lot of meat at the Roadhouse and always have used really good stuff like Niman Ranch and chickens from the Amish farmers in Indiana. As time goes on, we have opportunities to develop our connections to the community, and it has become more and more important to contribute to our community in any and every way possible. We’re working hard to create change in our own small piece of the food system. Finding local meat sources means that we’re looking for producers whose passion matches our own. We look for individuals who have the ability to produce really full-flavored meat. We work with them to select the breeds–old breeds–whose flavor profile satisfies our specifications. We then look to ensure that they are fed a natural diet and raised in a sustainable and healthy manner.
In addition to Cornman Farms, what local farmers and groups are you working with?
Ally Rogers of Roger’s Corner in Chelsea is raising goats for us. Kris Hearth of Old Pine Farm out in Manchester is raising beef, and Marshall Johnson in Jackson is also raising beef. Pork and beef, that I hand-selected, and purchased at the Chelsea and the Washtenaw County 4-H fairs are pasture raised at Cornman Farms as well.
What breeds of pigs, cows and chickens are we using?
Our beef is Angus and Whiteface Hereford, our pork is a Duroc-Hampshire cross, as well as Yorkshire. And finally, our chickens, which come from Homer, MI, are Barred Rock.
Where can I find local meat on the menu at the Roadhouse?
Mostly on the specials at this time, but as more becomes available, we will transition to other menu items to use more of these really good meats. Because we work with local farmers in a relatively small network, dramatically increasing a supply takes time and building long-term relationships. Starting with the work of Cornman Farms (our very own farm, supplying Roadhouse tables with fresh heirloom produce through the growing season and into the winter, and pasture raising heritage sheep, pork and beef), the Roadhouse is slowly building our local supply of heirloom produce and pasture raised meat through relationships with area farmers.
The Roadhouse menu seems like it changes a lot during the year, how do you decide what to put on it, and why?
We typically create 5-8 new specials a week and we find inspiration in many places, including historic cookbooks, in-depth looks at regional American foods, full-flavored ingredients, and the various harvest seasons across the country. In addition, some of our changes occur in the main area of our menu. For example, on our salads, we’re using our connection to local growers and our work at Cornman Farms to adjust recipes to reflect the changing seasons. During the summer, at the height of the tomato harvest, we’re serving hours-old tomatoes on the Roadhouse garden salad. But, in the cold months, we use oven-roasted tomatoes preserved from the harvest at Cornman Farms. What’s available and in season plays a starring role in what we’re serving, because our goal is always to use full-flavored ingredients and serve really delicious, full-flavored food.
What makes the Roadhouse’s work with local farmers and growers so important to the vision of the Roadhouse?
One of our guiding principles at Zingerman’s states, “We are an active part of our community.” Not only is giving back and donating to our community a part of this, but also building bonds within our community and supporting local growers. By finding ways to develop flavorful, heirloom breeds, we’re able to meet two goals at once: impacting our community, and advancing the Roadhouse’s vision of serving really good American food.