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Day Four as a Stage at The Fatted Calf

If It Walks Like a Duck, and Talks Like a Duck…

I’m afraid to say it but here goes – I am confounded by the bone structure of a duck.  I know, those of  you out there that are grizzled veterans of the kitchen will laugh at me.  Go ahead.  But today the duck got the best of me.  I don’t know why.  I’ve boned chickens for years without trouble but there are nuances to a duck that are just different.  From the wishbone that attaches to the breast to the weird shoulder blades that jut out to the necessity of including the oysters when trimming out the breast – those are just a few of the challenges that a duck carcass presents.  And I’m not getting it quickly.  I’ve now broken down about 7 or 8 ducks of varying quality and they are just frustrating me to the point of needing a few minutes to step away from my knife and board for a few minutes to ‘collect myself’.


What I Accomplished Today

Like any normal day at The Fatted Calf, today began with laying out 21 trays of jerky.  It’s become a morning ritual after four days and one I now actually look forward to.  It takes about a half an hour and sets the tone as I ease into the the day.

Next up, dusting the mold off about a dozen pieces of guanciale.  I wiped off a fine layer of dusty mold and then pressed the guanciale, meat side down, into a spice blend of salt, black pepper and chili flake.  Then into the bad ass vacuum sealer which I want one day for Christmas.

After this, we loaded the truck with about 15 boxes and coolers full of the day’s deliveries to the SF shop as well as some restaurant clientele.  It seems no day is complete without the movement of a significant amount of stuff around the walk in.  It’s a constant game of Tetris.

Back to the butchery table – I worked with a partner to trim 200 pounds of bottom round for marination and smoking as part of the jerky making process.  We took off all random fat, silver skin and trimmed out the seams in the meat.  I was actually quite adept at this task and didn’t fall too far behind my partner who was expert in the task.

Then it was on to lamb.  Thursday was lamb day and I spent a good hour plus boning and trimming legs, learning to remove the dastardly aitch bones and hidden glands, and then cubing it for the grinder.  We also cycled through other random cuts like shanks, necks and shoulders that were ready to move from the retail case to the grinder.

This was followed by prepping brine for hams due up tomorrow.  And last but not least, the aforementioned dastardly ducks.  All in all a long day even if not as diverse as my previous day but hard work nonetheless.  When I was done I was mentally and physically exhausted.  One more day to the weekend…


Perseverance is Key

My experience with the ducks has proven to me that learning something new at any age can be difficult.  I was reminded of this fact on my drive home tonight from a long day followed by a lovely dinner in Oakland with some dear old friends.  The car radio played Johnny Cash’s cover of Trent Reznor’s ‘Hurt‘ – which I was taught in a guitar class in Seattle about 3 years ago (and have now forgotten).  I remembered struggling to play this simple tune as a rookie guitar player and not being able to change chords with the rest of the class.  I stuck with it and was rewarded by learning to play that song, albeit slowly, while realizing that anything worth learning took hard work.

Much of my life has been spent working on things I excelled at naturally and could master easily – which I think is normal for most folks.  However, the path of least resistance is not always the most rewarding one.  I spent years doing work I was good at but didn’t necessarily enjoy.  Therefore, I will conquer the duck next week when it is sure to return to my cutting board – for I like to eat them and look forward to doing so soon.  And I vow to re-learn ‘Hurt’ when I return to Seattle and dust off my guitar.

To read about the beginning of my journey as a stage at The Fatted Calf click here.

For Day 3 – click here.

For Day 5 – click here.