At our restaurants, Odd Duck and Barley Swine, we don't buy our eggs from anywhere that is affected by the current egg shortage, but parts of Texas are currently doing rations. I've been buying my eggs from the same guy—Kris Olsen of Milagro Farms—since our restaurant was in a small food trailer. If you source your ingredients from small farms, and people that you know and trust to be treating their animals properly and providing them with an environment to thrive within, these outbreaks don't really affect you as a chef. I guess we're lucky, but I also understand how the world works: there's a lot of demand for food—especially fast food.
Even though we haven't really seen an issue with the egg shortage, we've been working with duck blood in certain dishes as a replacement for eggs. We're using it because it's available to us—I source duck blood of really good quality. It's not 100-percent interchangeable with eggs, but we use it for the same purpose in some of our menu items, such as blood crepes, made with a combination of blood and flour, as well as a blood brioche. There are a few eggs in our brioche, but it looks like a pumpernickel loaf with a dark brown color and a slight iron finish to it. Bradley, one of our sous chefs, made a blood ice cream with the same familiar blood flavor. I love the European classic: blood sausage. A lot of cultures have been making it for a really long time, so why not make it, too?
For a while, I tried to get local pigs' blood with no luck. But then suddenly, I was able to obtain duck blood, which reacts in the same way. It opened my eyes to what's possible.
The first time I dealt with duck blood was when I went out to one of the farms where I source my ducks. The owner would kill the ducks and hang them, and as the blood was dripping out of the animal, he would have a bowl of bread and aromatics that he would hold underneath as the drops dripped down and permeated the bowl. Then you'd take that and cook with it. If you use it properly, you can make it taste pretty good.
I, myself, didn't grow up eating blood, but if I was raised on a small farm and we had to eat everything that was available to us, I probably would have. This mentality of using every part of the animal and not wasting anything is an integral part of many cultures. Americans don't always have that mindset of using the whole animal all of the time. That's just the reality of it.
When I started getting serious about cooking, I started to consider animals and their welfare. I spent a summer working with a rancher who was raising and slaughtering animals when I experienced it firsthand. I wanted to make sure that I saw where the meat was coming from and respecting the animal—from raising it, slaughtering it, cleaning it, and then cooking it, it was being seen all the way through. If you can use the blood, it's great that you're not wasting it.
Every year, as our restaurant grows and we bring on new purveyors and sources for local ingredients, we're seeing more purveyors and makers (especially people foraging for wild foods around Austin that we can use). The seafood game from the Gulf is also growing—we're directly sourcing from fishermen so there's more local seafood options. We're able to get squid and different fish that we can cure and dry out to use for later on instead of buying fish sauce—and we're making garum from shrimp shells. There are a lot of cooks at our restaurants interested in fermentation and trying new techniques. We're trying to be more self-sustainable so that we don't have to buy as many vinegars and condiments from purveyors, or at least that's the direction we're trying to go.
I talk a lot about sourcing local foods all of the time, but it starts to lose its meaning. I really, truly believe in it and don't want to make it a big deal. It's something that everyone should apply to their restaurant if it is a chef-driven establishment focused on quality ingredients.
As chefs, we all need to realize that responsibly sourcing our food is going to cost a little bit more; the average guest at our restaurant is going to spend a little more money to know that their food was sourced with care and is less likely to be affected by these national outbreaks. Our food should be healthy. People take it for granted, but it becomes a part of you and it's something that we should all think about. If it means that you have to budget properly and be more mindful, then that's where I think it should go.
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