Butchers Of Gastown III: The Seafood Session
originally published on foodists.ca
It has been awhile since I have written a post for Foodists. A bloody long time to be quite honest. Even as I write this I am searching my brain for some small scrap that I might throw you, dear reader, to justify this absence. The easy route is to blame it on busy family life or, more specifically, my daughter. She is just turning 3 years old and by the time she reaches the age where she can legitimately go online (what’s that? Five years old? Six?) she will discover that her father has been blaming her for almost every indiscretion that he has made on the internets since the moment that she was born. (Sorry, Sweets).
But here we go…a post. And not just any post: the Butchers of Gastown Post. Which is a big one. If we weren’t collectively known as the Foodists, we would no doubt be known as the Butchers of Gastown. This is a serious and defining event that has been happening for 3 years now, a hardcore, no holds barred, blood and guts physical manifestation of what it is to be a Foodist. This year’s edition: Seafood.
And I got stuck with writing the definitive take on it. Thing is, I happened to mention to Mark, as we were carrying a load of supplies up the stairs out back of the Irish Heather into Evan’s apartment, that I totally saw the list of seafood that we were attacking that day as not unlike the drug list that assaults you in the opening pages of the good doctor Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. To paraphrase:
The fridge of Evan’s Gastown Apartment looked like a mobile fish monger’s shop. We had 1 30lb Halibut, 2 sockeye salmon, 1 sablefish, 1 albacore tuna, 8 squid, 1 large octopus, 24 oysters, 8 crab, 8 lobster, 100 mussels,100 clams and 16 sardines. Not that we needed all that for the day, but once you get locked into a serious seafood butchery, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
And push it we did. But then, you have to realize exactly who you are dealing with here. The Foodists are an insane crew. Take James Sherrett as but just one example, a true madman and gentleman beyond all others, one who routinely dons little more than a wet suit and ventures into the frigid local waters of Vancouver to dive down 35 feet in search of crabs, which he catches with his bare hands. His bare hands, people. This is some serious shit. We really like fresh, local food.
And so it was that half of our crew last Friday morning set out with James for a shoreline forage in anticipation of the dishes that we would be making later in the day. The rest of us, headed in the direction of Commercial Drive to pick up additional supplies and a last minute, guaranteed fresh and frisky collection of the lobsters and crabs from our friends at The Daily Catch.
But jumping back to that list again. I had copied and pasted it into the Out of Office email that I sent around the studio before leaving work on Thursday. All I want to say here is that there is a look that others get at the precise moment when you reveal that your “hobby” is far more extreme than the initial “I’m kinda into food” comment might have conveyed. They look cautious, on gaining intimate insight on what it is in this world that sets you slightly askew from your fellow passengers.
Now I am a true believer in the notion that everyone needs a passion in life. If you don’t have one, then you need to light out this very minute into the great wide world and go after it with a club. But when your passion involves taking a hacksaw to a lamb’s skull at 8:30 in the morning, as it did at last year’s event, so that you can pan fry the brains with a little salt and eat them, well let’s just say that my boss had trouble looking me in the eye for a week.
The closest thing to the hacksaw/brain moment this year was probably when Tyler shoved his hand into the hood-like head of a whole octopus and held it up to allow Mark to decapitate it, knife sliding effortlessly through the skin of the neck, the slippery, writhing legs falling into the sink for us to then chop up and throw into a braise of tomatoes, onions, herbs and red wine and later serve with potatoes as a salad of sorts. This year may have involved less hacksaws, but surprisingly, more blood and guts & general goo.
(Come to think of it watching Brenda divide an albacore tuna with nothing more than the edge of her fingertips was a fairly epic Butchers moment as well. Very Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.)
Oh yeah. We killed things this year.
There was an almost manic joy that we all felt as Leah led us through how to most efficiently dispatch our crabs, the ten of us eagerly lining up to place our victims on the edge of the sink and bring solid open palms down on the top of the shells, more or less instantly killing them just prior to grabbing the legs on each side and tearing the poor creatures into three. We also performed extreme lobotomies on the lobsters, fish knife straight between the eyes and then pulled down and through. It was around this time that Chad’s wife and young son dropped by to see how the day was going…I fear the poor boy might never be the same again…
But all of this talk is, as they used to say, just to sell newspapers. I’m giving you, dear reader, what you want to hear, the sensationalized account of it all — up to our ankles in carnage, the only thing glistening more sinister than our chef knives were our eyes. That type of thing. In reality, there is a far more purist and spiritual practice taking place at these events. Our fearless Butchers of Gastown leader, Chef Anthony Nicalo is nothing short of an evangelist on such matters. Collectively, we are a group of people who truly love food and refuse to allow it to be corporatized, mass produced or genetically altered. We believe that you should know where your food comes from, how it was grown or raised and who it is that is selling it to you. In that regard, the Butchers of Gastown has always been about getting more intimate with the production process, learning respect for the animals that we are eating and forming alliances with farmers and fish mongers who share similar values.
We believe that there is joy to be gained every time that you sit down to break bread with loved ones or new friends or even just a quick bite devoured over the kitchen sink. Our food industry is far too often designed around hectic lives and sheer volume of distribution. And it is failing our society both environmentally and in regards to personal health. When it comes down to it, that the same look of horror and disgust that I have seen on some people’s faces when I describe our day at the Butchers of Gastown is the exact same look that Foodists get when they see someone buying a box of fishsticks from the frozen food aisle of the supermarket. Even more so.
In the end, my favourite dish at the Butchers of Gastown was the sardines. Filleted by all of us, a little flour on the skin side and then grilled for just a few minutes by Ben on his Cobb charcoal grill and finished with a green olive tapenade and aioli. Simple, rustic, timeless eating. What more could you ask for?
View additional photos of Butchers of Gastown III on our Foodists Flickr group