At first there were nature camps, then football, tennis and band camps. Then came camps where you paddled kayaks and canoes or learned to sing rhythm and blues.
But a Camp Carnivore?
Whats that all about?
Meat lovers curious about the anatomy and cooking preparation of the food they love sharpened their knives and their meat-cutting skills at a Sept. 7 hands-on workshop led by meat-cutter Chris Fuller and hosted by Lauren Slaff, owner of verypersonal*chef, in her Durango teaching kitchen.
The class offered local foodies an opportunity to be butchers-in-training for a day. They learned to break down roasts and poultry, properly cutting meat by identifying markers, seams and grains that make butchering meat neater and easier.
Fuller, a former plant manager at Sunnyside Meats and one of the current chefs at Durangos Ore House, combined lecture, visual aids, handouts and hands-on practice to explain how correct meat cutting allows for maximum flavor and texture, once meat is cooked. Fuller demonstrated how to butterfly, stuff, roll and tie a pork loin, which was grilled and served to class members.
Luke Targos, an apprentice farmer at James Ranch and six-year employee of the Ore House, where hes done every job from bartender to line-cook, said he took the class because he wanted to learn something beyond the vegetable aspect of sustainable agriculture.
Butchering is a profession that is going to be much more valued, more appreciated in the future, Targos said, reflecting on a bygone era when the town butcher was highly regarded in food delivery channels.
I think there will be a return to that appreciation, he said. I see meat cutting at the forefront of the sustainable food movement.
Targos soon will be moving to upstate New York to be a vegetable production manager at a new farm near Syracuse, but the 23-year-old restaurant worker and farmer says that becoming a towns butcher could be a future career.
Taking the class was another step in connecting the dots to where my food comes from, Targos said.
Plus, Targos enjoyed the benefit of a weeks worth of meals afterward.
I brought home a crazy amount of meat, he said.
Forty-year-old Erik Maxson, head brewer at Carver Brewing Co., took the class because hes a huge carnivore who likes cooking.
Maxson says he and his wife routinely buy quarter and half sides of beef from local ranchers, who do all the processing. Hes had an interest in how they prepare the meat, so he jumped at the chance to learn from Fuller when he saw an advertisement for Camp Carnivore.
Maxson says he appreciates the interconnectedness between locals when it comes to opportunities to help each other in the food production cycle.
We give our spent grain to ranchers, and, in that way, Im helping feed the animal through what I do at my job, Maxson said.
Theres a huge amount of nutritional value in what seems to be waste (from the beer processing), yet its good supplemental food for pigs, chickens and cows. In that way, Im helping the farmer, and theyre helping me. Its reusing, and that feels good, he said.
Maxson also has an appreciation for the difficulty of cutting meat.
It looks effortless, but it takes a lot of finesse to do it well, he said.
Maxson said learning where to make critical cuts in the side of a large piece of beef was particularly useful. Determining where fascia and layering of muscle fiber provide points in which to insert the knife makes the cuts cleaner.
Chris brought in a huge piece of meat, ribs and spine from the cow. He showed us where and how to poke around, how to find the markers and the seams so you could follow the bone, Maxson said.
Learning how to skillfully quarter a chicken took Maxson back to his youth. He recalled how his grandmother deftly placed a knife within the joints, skillfully trimming to leave as little meat on the carcass as possible.
Fuller gathered nearly a half dozen neatly trimmed chicken carcasses and pointed to a morsel close to the backbone where the poultry was particularly flavorful. He explained how caramelized roasted chicken, a mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery and a bouquet garni, added to cold water is the start of a great stock.
Camp Carnivore cook and self-proclaimed meat lover Leah Deane scooped up several carcasses to make a pot of chicken stock the next day.
Like Targos and Deane, Maxson appreciated bringing home pork, beef and chicken from the class.
We cooked up most of the pork, sautéing it with a stir fry of seasonal vegetables. The chicken breasts we breaded in panko crumbs, he said after the class.
The interactive class included input from Barry Owen, owner of Columbine Sharpening, who demonstrated the correct angle to hold a boning knife while sharpening its edge. Owen provided a handout that included directions for using a straightening steel the long, cylindrical rod with fluted edges that comes with most knife blocks. Owen demonstrated correct wrist positioning to hold the steel at 22½ degrees while maintaining straight knife strokes. Keeping wrists and elbows in a firm, vertical position and applying light pressure is critical for getting rid of a wavy edge and restoring the V shape of a good cutting edge.
Part-time Durango resident Andrew Lipton echoed the sentiments of his camp buddies.
I learn best by doing, he said. Plus, we got a great meal that we helped prepare.