By Carey Sweet
As chef de cuisine of Dry Creek Kitchen in Hotel Healdsburg, Dustin Valette is used to cooking for picky customers. Yet in preparation for the fifth annual Pigs & Pinot gala dinner being held March 20, he's planning some especially particular meals.
One of his regular guests fancies pineapple and parsnips, preferably hand-fed to her by the chef himself. Another insists on stale sourdough bread from Healdsburg's Costeaux French Bakery. Even better if her baguette is sprinkled with a bit of spent grain harvested from Bear Republic Brewing Co.'s beer production.
These guests are pigs, using neither napkins nor silverware, gorging on nearly 75 pounds of food a day. Literally, they are pigs—the heritage Gloucestershire breed to be exact—hand-picked from Clark Summit Farm of Tomales and destined to play a very important part in the Pigs & Pinot feast. As entrées.
In a new twist to the popular epicurean benefit hosted by chef Charlie Palmer, Valette is feeding the suckling porkers leftovers from his restaurant, raising them at the biodynamic-certified Quivira Vineyards in Healdsburg, which also grows produce for Dry Creek Kitchen in its gardens.
"They're hungry little girls," says Valette of the 130-pound charges that have been stuffing themselves on expensive nibbles like baby carrots from Love Farms in Healdsburg and spring garlic from Geyserville's Bernier Garlic Farm. It's labor-intensive to collect the kitchen scraps and plate scrapings from his posh restaurant, but all in a day's work as private chef to a VIP-i-g. "People will be able to taste the difference at the dinner."
For their final two weeks, the pigs are being finished in the European style, with a Quivira-sourced acorn diet to produce a richer marbling and slightly sweet fat. When gala guests meet them, they'll be in the form of a main course, a duo of slow-cooked belly and house-cured lardo-wrapped pork loin, with spring garlic, wild mushrooms and a dried cherry marmalade.
"The extra attention helps the flavors, obviously," Valette says. "But it's really cool that they're eating the best quality food and scraps, thereby reducing waste, and are then being reprocessed into food themselves, coming full circle."
Pigs & Pinot Gala Dinner, Saturday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. $300. Sold-out. www.pigsandpinot.com.
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