Snout-to-Tail and Farm-to-Table: An Interview with Chef-Owner Duskie Estes

From by Katherine Harris
Snout-to-Tail and Farm-to-Table: An Interview with Chef-Owner Duskie Estes

While some may pass off farm-to-fork cuisine as merely a trend, to others, it’s a way of life.

Food Tank checked in with Chef-Owner Duskie Estes of zazu kitchen + farm to learn more about how a farm, a bacon business, and a restaurant can help support a local community.

Food Tank (FT): Your team at zazu kitchen + farm includes farmers, salumists, and chefs. Do you see this as a model for restaurants going forward? Is becoming self-sufficient a goal for you at some point?

Duskie Estes (DE): We love the craft of making and we are driven by curiosity to learn. Being in Sonoma County makes it easy for us to be authentically local. Last week, we did an event where everything on the plate came from a three-mile radius. That is impossible in most other places. Self-sufficiency is not what we seek. Creating a community with a strong local economy and sustaining our environment is what matters to us. I hope more and more restaurants think about the responsibility of the path of their dollar.

FT: How and why did you decide to open MacBryde Farm? How has the restaurant (both from the back and front of the house) changed since that time?

DE: MacBryde Farm is our home named after our daughters Mackenzie and Brydie. We have 50 chickens, one goat, 20 rabbits, two ducks, two sheep, 11 pigs, and a fruit orchard with about 20 different fruit trees. Over the years, we have gotten more and more committed to our sourcing. We hand our money directly to the farmer, make sure all the animals have a great life with only one bad day, and respect the gift they have given us by using every part. We have our cooks involved in harvesting—that is how they learn not to waste or burn anything.

FT: Research has shown that there is increasing consumer demand for products such as eggs, meat, and dairy made with respect for animal welfare and the environment. Have you found this to be true since opening the restaurant in 2001? How have the dishes or ingredients that customers have been interested in evolved over this time?

DE: While we always tried to use all the parts, they didn't used to sell well, and we ended up eating most of it ourselves. Once we won "King and Queen of Pork" at Aspen Food & Wine, people began to trust us. Now customers order the skin, the heart, the tail, the face, the ears, and give us a chance. I love proving to them that we can make it delicious. We also had to teach guests that the menu could change within service because a pig is not just a pork chop. To support small farmers who were treating the animals with respect, we had to bring in whole animals. People are starting to understand now.

FT: How did you and [your partner] John Stewart decide to open black pig meat co.? Could you share with Food Tank readers what qualities we should be looking for when purchasing cured meat products such as bacon?

DE: Keep asking your butcher where the meat comes from and how the animals were treated. The more we ask and refuse to buy confined meat, the more we will create change. Go to butchers that cut from whole animals. Eat the weird cuts—they take more patience and that is a good practice for all of us. Eat less meat, but eat the right kind. The animals give us a huge gift and deserve our respect. We like apple wood smoked bacon because you can actually taste the quality of the meat, rather than being hidden behind heavy hardwood. If you get quality bacon, try cooking it to medium instead of crispy.

FT: What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced both personally and professionally since opening zazu kitchen + farm? What have been some of the biggest opportunities for growth and learning?

DE: Meat production in our country has huge hurdles for small farmers. The USDA regulations favor the industrial farms, but food safety is greater in local food systems. In the restaurant, deciding to have a menu that is never the same is hard work—we frustrate brides when we won't do a tasting for foods out of season. Being as present as we want to be for our children is always in conflict with our work demands. The opportunities I tend to focus on are: teaching the next generation of chefs how to butcher, supporting small farmers, and always learning.

FT: You feature a wide variety of products from local makers on your menu and recognize them on your website. How important is giving back to the community to you?

DE: I grew up in a political household, but for me, it seems like politics doesn't work. This is how I create change. I see it every day. When we feed the animals our restaurant scraps in the morning, they show me they are happy with flapping ears, wagging tails, and loud grunting.

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