Meatopia Recap: Extreme Heat, Extreme Meat

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Duck Magret from Craig Koketsu

It was a scorching 100 degrees on Saturday as hordes of carnivores flocked to Meatopia in Brooklyn, NY, the giant meat festival thrown by Josh Ozersky. Why would people risk such extreme temperatures? That would be the meat, prepared by some of the country’s most widely respected chefs.

The main attraction was the 850 lb steer being cooked whole on a custom Caja China box. It basically looked like someone filled a queen-sized bed with hot coals and threw the biggest piece of meat you’ll ever see in your life on top of it. The steer was provided by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, the company that provides top-notch cuts of meat and burger blends to some of New York City’s best restaurants like Minetta Tavern and Shake Shack. Was it necessary to cook the thing whole? Hmm, probably not, as you probably could have gotten a similar flavor and tenderness out of a quarter cow. Still, restraint isn’t what Meatopia is all about.

Pat LaFrieda tends to his whole steer

While NYC was represented well, plenty of other chefs made the long journey to show off what they could do. One of the most impressive, under-the-radar chefs was Adam Sappington, the man behind Portland’s The Country Cat Dinnerhouse and Bar, who was serving crispy pig’s head stuffed with scrapple on a buttermilk biscuit.

“Right now, the Portland restaurant scene is interesting, because back in the ‘90s we all worked together and now we all have our own restaurants,” said Sappington. “It’s a great community; we all support each other and there’s no competition.”

Other visitors included Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo from L.A.’s stunningly good Animal, as well as Chris Hastings from Birmingham, Alabama’s Hot and Hot Fish Club, who was making a light, airy and strangely refreshing elk shoulder crepinette with olives, Clementines and almonds.

The carnivorous crowd

Of course, New York restaurant royalty was in attendance. Michael White, the James Beard award-winning chef behind Marea and Osteria Morini, was serving a porchetta sandwich made with pork loin that had been wrapped in pork belly and roasted on a spit. Served with some sage, rosemary and arugula on flatbread, it might have been the best dish at Meatopia. White, who stood chatting up adoring fans all day, didn’t seem too bothered by the blazing heat.

“Everyone’s complaining about it being hot,” joked White, “but now I think the spectators get to experience what we chefs have to endure everyday in the back of the kitchen. We’re always in 100-plus degree temperature, although I am wearing my seersucker chef’s coat today.”

Michael White -- not breaking a sweat

Other NY chefs brought their A-game as well, including Craig Koketsu from the Hurricane Club, who prepared a tasty grilled duck magret with green papaya, roasted peanuts and pickled red onions; Mike Price of Market Table, who made one of the best hoagies I’d ever tasted, filled with ground veal and pickled peppers; and Brad Farmerie of Public, who prepared a bizarre yet delicious waffle made with black (a.k.a. blood) pudding, roasted pears and whipped foie gras butter.

Meaty morsels weren’t the only attraction during the event. On stage, Whole Foods brought together butchers from all over the country to compete in the “Best Butcher Competition,” followed by a cooking demo by renowned Greek chef Michael Psilakis. Plenty of people took breaks from the intense heat and heavy food by sipping Amstel Lights on the giant picnic tables spread throughout Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Michael Psilakis with Josh Ozersky

So, how did Josh Ozersky think his event turned out?

“I challenge any food festival or culinary event in the world to feature better food than we have here today,” said Ozersky. “I believe we’ve set the benchmark for quality for a big event like this.”

Keith Wagstaff is New York City-based journalist and food writer. Check out more of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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