Necessity, they say, is the mother of all invention. For many, the need to have new and better varieties of pork, sausage, terrines, and other fine meats is enough to inspire great innovation. The ancient practice of charcuterie was born of the simple need to preserve meats. It became an artform in the 15th and 16th centuries in (where else?) France, where local butchers formed guilds in each city and town, and the bitter competition led to the development of many new seasonings, techniques and flavors.
The new generation of charcutiers are looking to pick up the torch and carry the art forward by mixing traditional approaches with innovative and imaginative seasonings. It’s no longer about mere preservation of meat – it’s about celebration of flavors.
After picking up some of Brooklyn Cured’s delicious country pate at Brooklyn Flea recently, and enjoying it with friends who all demanded to know exactly how they could get some for themselves, we decided we had to learn more about the man behind the meats. We met up with Scott Bridi at Southside Coffee in Windsor Terrace to find out how a Brooklyn-born Italian kid honed his skills at institutions like Gramercy Tavern and Marlow & Daughters, and became a master charcutier along the way.
So Scott, where are you from and what led you to start Brooklyn Cured?
I’m from Bensonhurst in South Brooklyn – Brooklyn born and bred, and extremely proud of that. I grew up in a big Italian family where food was really important to everybody. The extended family always gathered around food on weekends and holidays. Food was always a main topic of conversation…how good was the food at this person or that person’s house? Or how good was the food at this restaurant, or that wedding, or the neighbors’ holiday party? Everyone in my family seemed to always be cooking, eating, talking about and evaluating food. So I grew up with a real appreciation of the importance of food…beyond it just tasting good. That love of food that was everywhere when I was growing up was what led me to want to work with food.
How did you get started in the business?
I started out working in publishing. There were things that were cool about it, but it was never all-encompassing for me. I wanted a career that was hyper-satisfying. That fascination with food that was instilled in me at an early age made me really curious about a career in food. So I started working a couple of days a week at Enoteca on the Lower East Side. While working there part time I decided that I wanted to make the leap to cooking, so I quit my publishing job and started working full time in the kitchen. I was also reading books like The Making of a Chef and Kitchen Confidential at that time – they were very enlightening and inspirational, and sometimes sensational, but I guess all that helped me take the plunge.
At Enoteca there was a lot of really delicious, really simple food and great wines. I worked there for four years. They had things like Panini, braised meats, chicken cacciatore, meatballs, really nice salads…eventually I got to put specials on the menu and took over the role of sous chef, so I was doing all those sorts of things.
Enoteca gave me a great foundation at working clean-and-fast and understanding flavors…and speaking Spanish, which is pretty critical in this business if you really want to make connections with everyone you work with.
The food at Enoteca was really great, but it was meant to be produced really quickly. It was a brilliant business model looking back on it. They’ve been doing well for over seven years now. But I wasn’t getting the variety of experience I was looking for with cooking methods and techniques. I learned how to make a great soup there, some great herb-based sauces and braises, but I wasn’t learning how to properly cook fish or meat or make fresh pasta or do something like charcuterie.
Eric, the chef and owner at Enoteca encouraged me to look for an opportunity to learn more about other things. That’s something I really love about this business. Everyone I’ve ever worked for has had that outlook – they care about the future development of the people they work with, which is a really beautiful thing.
Where did you go next?
I just wanted to put myself in a position where I would be learning a lot and growing a lot and when I had the opportunity to go over to Gramercy Tavern as a garnish cook, I took it.
As a garnish cook, I expedited and made the garnishes and sides for all the entrees in the bar room. It was really eye-opening! There was a lot of responsibility–I had to prep, expedite and cook at a whole different level than I was used to. It was like going from Single A minor-leage ball to the major leagues overnight! I had some swings and misses early on, but eventually learned how to adjust to the pace of the game and to the level of cooking.
After working the garnish station for a while, I moved up and began working on the fish line. I was there at a great time. Michael Anthony had just taken over as executive chef for Tom Colicchio. To see his approach was remarkable. He very slowly but surely adapted and replaced dishes to bring the menu in line with his style. It had to be done very slowly and carefully because a restaurant operation at a place like Gramercy is like a big machine.
Early on, the garde manger and fish were big focuses of his. I was working on the fish garnish station, putting together the garnishes, the vegetable sets, the starch sets…so I got to learn a lot directly from him.
It was just brilliant – the levels of flavors that he created, the level of delicacy in each final product…I remember the station having more than a dozen squeeze bottles of various vinegars and oils. There were nut oils, olive oils, pickling liquids, pomegranate juice, soy sauce…all of these things that he used to create roundness, depth and delicacy were illuminating to say the least.
He’d stand there and taste things with me and say, “You know Scotty, this could use a little more garlic oil.” He’d add a few drops of garlic oil and it would dramatically change the dish. It was all about balance and the ranges of flavors that work together. You often want something that both a little sweet and a little savory, so you create a bridge between those flavors by using something like garlic oil which has elements of both.
He was also totally focused on using the freshest possible produce and on using seasonal elements in all the fish dishes. Cooking all the vegetables to order was really challenging and eye-opening too.
Eventually I began cooking fish appetizers like fresh pastas with fish, shellfish, smoked mackerel and smoked trout. I got to roast, poach, steam, and grill fish, so I really developed my skills there and learned how to approach each element of each dish in a way that was appropriate for the dish and for the fish. I worked with all kinds of fish and all kinds of techniques. It was really awesome.
Is Garmercy where you first starting working with charcuterie?
Absolutely. After working all the fish stations, I moved on to the meat stations. I worked at the six main stations in the kitchen until I was proficient in each.
When Mike came in they had just started purchasing whole animals. His farm-to-table mentality extended beyond just using local vegetables from the market – it extended to the proteins on the plate and to using whole animals that were locally raised. They were getting whole pigs from Flying Pigs Farms upstate and a side of beef from Eco-Friendly Foods in Virginia every week.
With that approach came a need to utilize all the parts of the animal – there’s a lot more on those animals than shoulders, shanks, heads and butts. So he started a charcuterie program. I was really interested in getting involved in Charcuterie and eventually I ran the program.
How did you learn the churcuterie arts? Was there an expert in-house?
None of us had a lot of prior experience with Charcuterie. We did a lot of research. We read books like Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie and Paul Bertoli’s Cooking By Hand…we took the techniques and applications outlined in sources like that and started making things. There was a lot of trial and error. In the beginning, making things like emulsified sausages, fresh sausages, cured meats and smoked hams was sort of an adventure.
At the same time, some of it is pretty straightforward. Like making a head cheese is essentially stewing and slow cooking pigs heads, then taking them apart and setting them in gelatin. The principals are the same as making a stew. In the same way, making a pork rillette is really just slow cooking pork shoulder or belly in pork fat. Making pâté is similar to making meatloaf in a lot of ways, except you use liver and season it differently. Those are all classic charcuterie items, ways to preserve meat, but any home cook could do it with a little guidance.
Things get more complex when you start curing meats and making emulsified sausages and things like that. Those require more trial and error to find the right ratios of proteins to fat. It was a fun process and I think we really mastered it. There’s a kielbasa recipe and a merguez recipe that Mike, Nick Anderer and I put together that are still on the Tavern’s menu today.
What came after Gramercy?
I took a job as opening chef at Lot 2, which is just across the street from here. We put together a really nice market-driven menu with an Italian influence. It has some charcuterie items, some braises, some fresh pastas. I really love making fresh pastas almost as much as I love making charcuterie.
Eventually I moved on to work at Marlow & Daughters – the esteemed butcher shop in Williamsburg. Marlow & Daughters was great. They source some of the finest animals you can find anywhere, and working with that product was really wonderful. One of the most important aspects of that experience was that I had to learn to work within a smaller space and with less equipment. Gramercy had a lot of space and a lot of resources, while at Marlow & Daughters it’s relatively small and the budget is limited. I knew that I wanted to start my own business and I knew that if I wanted that to work it was critical to learn to work well with very limited resources.
After working there, I felt I’d learned what I needed to know and I started Brooklyn Cured.
So what were some of your inspirations for Brooklyn Cured?
The inspiration comes from the traditional types of places that sell great meats like Italian-American pork stores, Lower East Side delis, French charcuterie, German beer gardens, wine bars…all of those traditional classic types of establishments that make or serve highly-seasoned meats or bacon or sausages or things that people associate with comfort and childhood at some level. For me, those are the types of places I enjoy most. I want to make sausage spirals like you’d find in a pork store that you can throw on the grill in the summertime.
I’d like do traditional Italian sausages with parsley and Parmesan and I’d like to do something a little different…put my own twist on it. I’ll be doing kielbasas and wieners like you’d find at a German beer garden, cured meats and terrines that you’d find at a wine bar and that would complement a nice red wine. Those types of places are an inspiration in that they’re all traditional, comfortable places in which charcuterie plays an important role.
You mentioned that at Gramercy Tavern and Marlow & Daughters you got to work with lots of great local, sustainably produced meats. Do you try source the meats you use at Brooklyn Cured in the same way?
Sourcing product from local farms is very important to me for many reasons. I find that the quality of the meat is just better. It’s also important because it’s sustainable, it supports small businesses and it has environmental benefits. I don’t like to get too political about it; I’m more of a cook and a chef than an activist. My focus is on making the most delicious food I can make. In order to do that, it’s important to use the best available product always. And that’s really the critical reason I use meat from small-scale, sustainable-minded local farms.
I’ve been using pigs from Mosefund Farm in New Jersey. I know them from the New Amsterdam Market where we both have stands. The folks at Hudson Valley Duck produce some really nice birds. I’ve been using Bobo Farms’s poultry in my chicken sausages–they’re from upstate as well. I use lamb from Elysian Fields farm in Pennsylvania. I know the folks at Flying Pigs Farm and Eco-Friendly from my days at Gramercy, and I’ll use their product in the future. Those are the only types of farms I have worked with, do work with, and will work with.
What are some of your favorite pairings for your products?
I’ve got a country pate which is a pork pate with orange zest, warm spices, a little bit of pork liver for a seasoning element – it’s not the main component. A simple pairing is best with that one – just nice fresh crusty bread and a glass of red wine.
I’m making a fresh lamb sausage with black olives and lemon zest which is awesome in a white bean stew with bitter greens like broccoli rabe or arugula thrown in at the very end. The sausage itself is very brightly flavored with the olives and the lemon zest and a bit of red wine. I made a stew like that for myself the other day and I was very happy with it.
My chicken sausage is made with white wine, rosemary, and roasted garlic. Those flavors go great with a cacciatore-style sauce with tomatoes and mushrooms. If you added the chicken sausage to that and tossed it with some fresh pasta, I think people would be pretty psyched.
I’m doing a seasonal turkey dinner sausage that’s made with roasted chestnuts, sour cherries, nutmeg and thyme. It’s like Thanksgiving dinner rolled into a sausage. I love that one with mashed potatoes and gravy.
My other seasonal sausage is an Italian New Year’s sausage. It’s a sweet pork sausage with some warm winter spices like cinnamon, clove and vanilla. It’s my version of the traditional sausage served with lentils on New Year’s Day in Italy.
I’m also doing smoked pork rillettes with pork shoulder, pork belly and a little bit of bacon fat. I t’s a very smoky, delicious treat. It’s like pulled pork in a can.
How do you see your menu evolving as you get up and running?
I can’t wait to start curing. There’s a lot of bureaucratic stuff that you have to deal with to start curing, but when I get that in place I’ll be making Italian-style cured meats like Pancetta and coppa. Maybe even lamb coppa, lamb prosciutto, cured ham and pork. Eventually I’d also like to do whole smoked hams and bacon and hot dogs. That’s in the future, but hopefully people will enjoy what I’m making now and bear with me for a little bit.
Where can people get your stuff?
I’ll be at Brooklyn Flea every Saturday and Foodshed Market every Sunday starting in January. You can also find Brooklyn Cured at Blue Apron Fine Foods in Park Slope and Brooklyn Victory Garden in Clinton Hill. I’m working on a few other wholesale accounts too.
So as a proud born-and-bred Brooklynite, what are some of your favorite local food spots?
We’re sitting in one right now. While I do know the people here, objectively speaking I think Southside Coffee makes some of the best coffee in the city. It’s a nice cornerstone of the community, but it should be a destination too because they make seriously amazing coffee.
My favorite pizza place is right up the street. It’s Luigi’s Pizza on 65h Avenue between 20th and 21st streets. Those guys have been there since 1973 and I’m good friends with the owner and pizza maker, Giovanni. Their fresh mozzarella slice is one of the best slices in the city, and I don’t make that kind of recommendation lightly. I’m not a snob in any way in terms of food, except with pizza. It’s an experience going there – just an old-school pizzeria with some really cool people who are from Brooklyn and are very much like the people I grew up with. Really great people and amazing pizza.
These are places in my neighborhood, but I think they’re really great and worth a visit from anywhere.
I also love going to Prime Meats, which everyone knows about, but the ribeye I had at Prime Meats the other day was one of the best steaks I’ve had in a while. They have awesome salads too and it’s a great feel in there.
You can find Scott’s Brooklyn Cured sausages, pates and terrines at Brooklyn Flea in Fort greene on Saturdays, at Foodshed Market in Boerum Hill on Sundays, at Blue Apron Fine Foods in Park Slope and at Brooklyn Victory Garden in Clinton Hill. Stay tuned – more accounts are in the works so you’re sure to see them in a shop near you soon.