Samuel Ferguson is a sous chef at Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop in Boston, MA. He’s worked at several restaurants around New England and has been at The Butcher Shop since late 2009. As a sous chef at the restaurant, he often works the line during dinner service, manages inventory, and helps with butchering proteins for the retail case, but his core passions lie with charcuterie and sausage creation. The 35 seat restaurant is inspired by French and Italian techniques and focuses on charcuterie, sausage, and dry age steaks. The Butcher Shop also boasts a butcher and full retail program, centered around a large butcher block at the back of the restaurant. The team takes great pride in a monthly CSA program that helps highlight pork, beef, lamb, and poultry from a variety of farms around New England.
Kitchens are small. With very few exceptions, no one is able to open a restaurant with a kitchen that meets every spatial and functional wish list. Prep kitchens are in ‘unfinished’ basements, with beams and concrete jutting out of crude building foundations. There’s not enough electrical outlets to operate simultaneously all of the tools and equipment needed for dinner service. Oven knobs are broken, the dishwasher faucet leaks, and the ceiling’s too low so tall cooks have to arch their head to the side when standing on the saute station.
Furthermore, kitchens have a way of feeling even smaller. There’s often no natural sunlight, and the lightbulbs all glare at you from the same angle. The hustle and noise of a kitchen can be invigorating, but it’s also invasive. There’s always someone around you screaming “behind”, “hot!”, or some profane spanish curse. Many like to say, “you can’t hide in the kitchen”, meaning that your knife skills, work ethic, and personal habits will always be on display for others to see. I like to think of it a little more literally; it’s actually physically impossible to not be seen in a kitchen because they’re so small, someone is always looking for you to ask a question, and because all empty space has been optimized as a miniature storage facility. All of these environmental challenges make creativity and thought development very difficult.
With all of that said, it is those brief moments of peaceful creativity and inspiration that truly drive and motivate. A couple months ago we were looking at a cookbook from Chicago’s NEXT restaurant’s “Paris 1906” menu and I saw a dish where foie gras mousse had been piped into the center of a brioche loaf, allowed to cool and set, and sliced for bread service. It’s a classic turn of the century Parisian technique developed by Escoffier called “Foie Gras a la Strasbourgeoise”, and it’s something so beautiful and so masterfully created that it looks like the foie must have been cooked in the center with the bread. This is impossible though, as a very delicate and sensitive foie mousse would never withstand the long cooking process brioche bread requires.
I was fascinated with the idea and really wanted to incorporate it into some of our charcuterie. I decided on a poultry en croute, cooking a terrine with a wooden dowel set into its center. After it had cooled for 24 hours, I carefully removed the dowel and piped soft foie gras into the empty inlay. It rested again, and I cut into it.
More specifically, this is a chicken and duck terrine that also includes chicken livers and pork fat. It’s seasoned with salt, pink salt, 4 spice, white pepper, nutmeg, and clove. There are also dried cherries that are steeped in a sweet wine.
This experiment was a success; not only did we create a delicious and beautiful terrine, we also opened the door for new ideas. Last week I made a mousse out of bone marrow and piped it into the center of a pork terrine.
Our kitchen is small, and it’s usually overcrowded. We have a strong team of thoughtful and creative individuals, and our collective motivation, inspiration, and creativity are large parts of what gets me out of bed in the morning. Although the conditions of our environment are a daily challenge, it’s creations like these pieces of charcuterie that make it all so incredibly rewarding.
In addition to the people around me, a tremendous amount of inspiration comes from the animals that we butcher. There’s always a pig in some state of fabrication, and the walk-in refrigerator teems with ducks, chickens, foie gras, rabbits, lambs, and large cuts of beef. Furthermore, our retail display case boasts almost 20 different dry cured salumis. The point is, The Butcher Shop encourages imagination simply by being itself. For example, over the winter we had a retail guest that wanted to purchase 5 pounds of venison loin. In order to meet the minimum order quantity from our venison purveyor, we had to buy 10 pounds of meat. After we provided our guest with what she wanted, we were left with 5 pounds of beautiful venison loin. To utilize this lean game meat, we imagined grinding it with pork fat, whipping it into a ground farce with toasted pistachios and other warm winter spices, and then wrapping it with speck or pancetta. In this way, I’m very lucky in that there’s often a surplus of product that we need to utilize. Not only is charcuterie and sausage a great venue for artistic expression, but it’s also a practical way to process and utilize our inventory of meat, game, and poultry. In this vein, my kitchen space is an integral component to my creativity. We’re so incredibly lucky to work with such quality animals, and the results of our passions truly shine in our charcuterie.
You can contact Sam at sferguson (at) thebutchershopboston.com