Chef Josh Stockton of the soon to open Corktown restaurant Gold Cash Gold is a little young to be a Lifer Interview, but he's been breaking down pigs for almost as long as he can remember, and it runs in his blood. His grandfather used to butcher his own hogs every year, and Stockton's father raises pork in Tennesee. Read on for more about the whole hog trend in Detroit, how to tell if it's good pork, and what to expect from the Gold Cash Gold menu.
Josh Stockton. [Photo: All Photos Chris and Michelle Gerard ]
First, do you call them "pigs" or "hogs"?
JOSH STOCKTON: I call them pigs, my dad running the farm calls them both.
Your Dad raises pigs down in Tennessee, but he has brought them all the way up here for some of your dinners in Michigan correct?
STOCKTON:He brought me up a whole pig for the Revolver dinner and the Clandestine dinner. I butchered the pig during the Corktown historic home tour, so people were coming up to my apartment and seeing a whole pig's head just sitting out.
How did he get a whole pig all the way up here?
STOCKTON: He actually just brought it up in his van on his way to a wedding! I just met with a bunch of the chefs in the area over at Antietam and we were talking about my Dad's pigs. A bunch of the other chefs are interested, if he can bring more than one at a time he can bring them all the way up, instead of me driving down to meet him half way. He's working on getting a refrigerator truck. Generally when you get a pig it's broken down into seven pieces and it fits into coolers. I would have had him bring it up whole, but with wedding clothes in the back and my Mom in the car…he broke it down in deference to her.
What makes his pigs special?
STOCKTON: Typically everyone wants Berkshire pork, and his pigs are 100% Berkshire. The marbling is really nice, they have a good fat content, and they're raised organically; it's verging on red meat. Whole Foods has a rating system of 1-5 for how well the animals were raised, he's a four. Five is just ridiculous; you have to actually play fetch with the pigs daily.
Do you remember the first time you ever broke down a whole pig?
STOCKTON: Oh God, I was probably seven or eight. Both of my Dad's parents are from Tennessee, we used to go down every Thanksgiving and Easter, and Thanksgiving is hog butchering time. We didn't do it as much when I was older, but I remember it used to be the first thing we'd do when we got down there. You take the pig, kill it, bleed it, make blood sausage, salt the hams…it was one of the reasons I wanted to move back there, but it's much different now.
There seems to be a renewed local interest in butchery and breaking down whole animals in Detroit. Why do you think that is?
STOCKTON: I think it's two reasons: one, everyone is opening up restaurants and trying to do it on a budget. I can buy a whole pig for $3.25 per pound, if I wanted just a pork chop, buying the whole loin is $12 per pound. There's also this interest in craft products, it's kind of cool having a little room in the basement that smells like funky meat. As a chef you have to do everything on a deadline, when someone else wants you to do it. With meat, it's down there and just kind of yours for two to three months.
Do you think the trend will continue?
STOCKTON: I think so. I think especially here, the people who are doing it are the people moving back from other places. It will keep going and start to catch on, and the city will realize it and it will start to become more regulated. It's a matter of making sure you can prove that it's safe. Plus, these chefs will become established and other people will be trained under them as it keeps going, so someone will take it and run with it, and that's all they'll do at their restaurant someday.
Are there any meat dishes in the works for Gold Cash Gold that you're particularly excited about?
STOCKTON: I've been playing around with more Asian flavors lately; I did a take on a green papaya salad I think turned out really well. There's a very traditional Thai sour pork dish that is left raw and fermented for 7-10 days, here I didn't think that would fly, so I seared it off and made it crispy and seasoned it with a lot of fish sauce and other flavors. My dinner for Revolver and Clandestine used a lot of pork, even in the dessert courses, but nobody came up to me after and said, "Oh, I'm in a meat coma". It's using meat where it's not the main component, it's just part of the whole dish, and I did find I liked using it in dessert.
If you could only eat one animal for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
STOCKTON: If I had to pick one whole animal? If I could I would say birds, but that's too broad…to me the greatest meat dish on earth is a well-roasted chicken, but I also love cooking pheasant and grouse. If it's one animal I would pick a pig, because you can use all the different parts in so many ways, but if it was one meat dish, it would be a roast chicken. A well-done chicken is great, my Dad raises the heritage chickens too.
Are you going to get chickens from him for the restaurant?
STOCKTON: Yeah, we're going to do chickens, pork and eggs, and use him as a delivery for Benton's bacon. Allan Benton has been doing bacon and country ham since the 70's. There's a three-page section in the Momofuku cookbook about him. He got big working with Blackberry Farm [where Stockton used to work in the kitchen and as a butcher]. It's just amazing.
Any advice on how those of us who don't have access to your Dad's pigs can find good pork?
STOCKTON: You have to look at it. It should be a nice dark color, with not too much fat, and it should have some marbling like a steak. Density is good, just like a heavy melon is the juiciest; trust your eyes and your senses. As for cooking, brining pork and chicken takes a little more time, but it brings out the flavors. For beef, salt your meat the night before.
What are your favorite meat dishes in the city?
STOCKTON: I love the El Pastore taco at Nuestra Familia, I love the pork and Chicharrone Pupusa at the Papusaria, there's a braised lamb and stewed vegetable dish at the Yemen Café in Hamtramck that's amazing. Those are my three favorites right now.
Any news on when Gold Cash Gold is opening?
STOCKTON: We should be open in the last weeks of September or first week of October, but that's a generous buffer, it could be the first two weeks in September. Right now things are progressing nice and quick, every time I go in now there seems to be something new done.
· Gold Cash Gold Chef Josh Stockton At Revolver [-ED-]
· 10 Iconic Detroit Meat Dishes [-ED-]