Though they’d eaten and even cooked with this meat before, Washington, D.C. chefs Frank Ruta and Robert Wiedmaier savored their portions of slow-roasted shoulder all the more while sitting next to the man who raised the cattle.
They’d worked up particularly strong appetites for the spread — which included porterhouse and ribeye cuts of veal alongside baked beans and braised collards that were expertly prepared by Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio — by participating in a guided partridge hunt with a several dozen other chefs that morning.
The expansive, meat-centric lunch and hunt helped lure the chefs from the city to Joe Henderson’s farm and hunting preserve in Berryville, Va. on the unseasonably warm Monday before Thanksgiving. There, Henderson is reviving America’s oldest and rarest breed of cattle, Randall Lineback, largely by finding chefs who will put his unique “ruby veal” on their menus.
“In order to save this breed, we need to consume it, because it doesn’t have a job,” said Javier Arez with Huntsman Specialty Game & More, the distributor Henderson began working with this year to expand sales.
Bringing chefs out to hunt and wine and dine on the 600-acre property where they’re raised? It’s all part of the pitch. “Usually when we get together, it’s to cook,” said Ruta, formerly of Palena, as he enjoyed the change of pace and a glass of wine.
After lunch, Henderson took a group of chefs who hadn’t worked with his grass-fed offerings out to the field to meet the source. Face-to-muzzle with the herd, the chefs snapped photos with their iPhones and peppered Henderson with their questions. Roberto Hernandez, the executive chef at Mio, was still making up his mind about the meat, which comes across as chewier-yet-meatier than its grain-fed counterparts and is worlds apart from the standard veal. But, after hunting for the first time on this, his first visit to a Virginia farm, Hernandez said he’d give it a try in his kitchen.
Whitney Pipkin is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. who writes at thinkabouteat.com and tweets via @whitneypipkin. Her work appears in publications like The Washington Post, Virginia Living, and Northern Virginia Magazine. She also is a staff writer for the Chesapeake Bay Journal.