Filling sausage casings is harder than it looks, and if you watch some dumb Indy journo who nearly ruined the first batch ever made in Ivywild School do it, it looks impossible. Luckily, better hands are at work.
Technically being made into hot dogs in the Meat Locker's sunlight-filled space about a month before opening, the triple-ground pork mixture started as a 150-pound hog living outside of Pueblo. After slaughter, the animal was taken back to the Blue Star and broken down by Locker executive chef Mark Henry and his partner, Benjamin Kuntz. Considering their interests, the time couldn't have been better spent.
"It was exciting — just blood all over the place," says a grinning Kuntz, a genial 26-year-old from Wisconsin who's basically the physical opposite of the burly and bearded Henry. "It was something that I appreciated because none of the stuff did go in the garbage can: We used every single part. And you go out to some of these meat factories and there's just a ton of waste."
Such respect for the animal is a theme sounded by almost every creditable chef, and is inherent to what the pair wants to accomplish here.
"You can eat [cheap] pork and feel like shit at the end of your meal," says the 27-year-old Henry, his tattooed arms gently manipulating a brand-new meat slicer back and forth over a round of house-cured shoulder bacon. "But the reason that you felt like shit wasn't because you ate too much, or because you didn't eat the right thing. It was because the product that you ate was shit."
So, that's what you won't find at the latest venture owned by chronic restaurateur Joe Coleman. What you will find are locally sourced products like the aforementioned, as well as entrées such as Thai chicken-peanut sausages, herb-roasted turkey sandwiches, Laughing Lab chili, meat by the pound and salads built with greens grown next door. The bread comes from the bakery down the hall, the meat from Colorado, and the dairy from Springside Cheese Shop in Pueblo.
"We'll eventually be getting into doing some pizzas — Ben's kind of our pizza king — and we'll be using some capocollos and stuff that we're making in-house," says Henry. "It's just gonna be like any other seasonal restaurant, where we use what's in-season, what's available, and in our case, what's local, at its full potential."
What could be more old school than that?
"The history of charcuterie, in the sense of salting, smoking, and cooking to preserve, may date almost to the origins of Homo sapiens," writes Michael Ruhlman in his popular 2005 how-to book Charcuterie. "Sausage recipes date to before the golden age of ancient Greece. Even before that, the Egyptians were fattening geese for their livers — and possibly making the first pâté de foie gras."
And while Henry spent time studying under James Beard-nominated chef, and preserved-meat master, Craig Deihl in South Carolina — and plans to use the hell out of his new toys, including two industrial-sized, stainless-steel smokers with time, temperature and humidity controllers — he'll probably avoid making some of the aged stuff that messes with a variety of molds.
"We'll get there eventually, but you can make people really sick doing that," says the Army veteran, who raises his own ducks, chickens, goats, turkeys, pigs and rabbits on a half-acre farm in Fountain. "So, we're gonna do the fresh stuff right now that's a little less dangerous, but still just as much fun, and then we'll move on to that other stuff later."
Either way, the current "stuff" is impressive for a variety of reasons. For instance, instead of mixing the meat in the Thai chicken sausage with regular pork hard fat, Henry and Kuntz cure the fatback into luxurious cubes of lardo, and grind that in with peanuts and spices. "Fresh" is key, too, as natural ingredients like apple-cider vinegar will be used instead of pink curing salt to create the same chemical changes stimulated by its nitrates and nitrites.
All told, artificial is out.
"The food scene [here], in my opinion as a local chef, it kind of sucks," Henry says. "And as chefs, and people that have influence over that culture, we have two options: We can either bitch about it, or we can do something about it.
"And the opportunity to get to show people in this town who have settled for Sonic, and McDonald's and everything, for so long, what else is out there, and why this is better, and how much more fun it is — and try to excite people about food the way that I'm excited about it — it's just so much fun."