It must take a brave chef to dedicate his workday to cooking pig -- well, many parts of the pig, from ears to even the tail. One can never be sure what goes into the cookpot at D.C.'s the Pig.
Evidently, patrons love Garret Fleming's pork-based dishes, and with good reason: He's a creative chef who can transform braised pork cheeks into a dish of fork-tender pork with grits. He can turn wild boar into a luscious, winey ragu. And he seems comfortable working with pork belly and even pig brains.
So what is it about this young man that makes him a kitchen hero? He grew up in a food-centric family, and remembers very clearly having a dinner with his father in France that featured this appetizer: "I started out with the cerveaux, a dish of calves brains that were lightly poached and then pan-seared in browned butter and finished with lime juice and parsley," he explained.
But the prelude to this grown-up meal were his childhood years spent at a family dinner table enjoying his mother's well-polished recipes and listening to table talk about food, food, food.
|If you go|
|» Where: 1320 14th St. NW|
|» Info: 202-290-2821|
|» Hours: Lunch, noon to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner, 5 p.m. to close nightly; brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends|
"The Fleming family always cooked together," he said. "That was how I was raised. I was so excited to do this the rest of my life."
After high school his thoughts were not first about dedicating his life to cooking but to getting a law degree, a short-lived ambition. After traveling to Europe, Fleming returned to the United States and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. After graduation and an externship in Charleston, S.C., (his home town), Fleming moved to the D.C. area.
Searching for a different position, Fleming considered applying to restaurants in Charleston, S.C., San Francisco and Chicago. One morning on his way to work he saw a sign at the Pig announcing its spring 2012 opening. After confirming that this was not a barbecue restaurant, Fleming took the next step.
For his trial meal for the owners, he drew on all known pork-cooking influences from all around the world. "I did a little bit of everything -- I served dishes from a 40-pound suckling pig. For example, I cooked ears down and chiffonaded and fried them and put them in a salad with toasted garlic, caramelized onions."
Now nearly a year later, it's safe to say that Fleming is very comfortable in his porcine role, with his adding that the job has been amazing. "This is my menu, this what I do," he says. "I want it to be 100 percent my desires and according to the seasons."
What is your favorite comfort food?
My favorite comfort food would be noodles and soup. "Numbing chicken" and pasta all'arrabbiata are my favorite comfort foods, as well as Cambodian chicken soup and any fresh pasta.
What's in your fridge right now?
Chinese sausage, smoked rutabaga ravioli, wild hibiscus flowers in syrup, bean sprouts, galangal, yogurt, homemade peanut butter, bacon, sour mustard greens, duck eggs, mudfish paste and fish sauce
Were is your favorite restaurant?
I love Komi, and I have eaten there maybe five times. There is something that is mind blowingly [good] about consistently perfectly cooked food ... He isn't trying to change your mind about food, he manages to always hit the high notes and he has a great palate. I also love Bangkok Golden and Donna's Al Dente.
How do you define your cooking style?
It is constantly evolving. I would never not want to cherish my experiences, but I am highly motivated to improve and diversify my repertoire. My skill set to date mostly encompasses French technique and stylistically the historical cuisines bourgeoisie of Italy, France, Spain and the Americas. I am particularly obsessed with Italian food, especially from southern Italy because of all the North African and Greek influences, but I also cherish the pristine dynamics of northern Italian cuisine. I think I think about Italian food most of the time.
Spicy Chicken Soup
Serves 4 to 6
2 ounces fresh ginger, sliced into 1-inch segments
2 ounces galangal, sliced into 1-inch segments
2 stalks lemon grass, bruised and knotted
3 cloves garlic
1 (3- to 4-pound) roasting chicken
Juice from 2 limes plus 2 ounces
1/4 to 1/2 cup fish sauce plus 2 ounces
1 tablespoon salt or to taste
6 Thai bird chilies, seeded and minced, or to taste
Fresh Thai basil to garnish
Fresh cilantro to garnish
1/4 cup roasted garlic to garnish
Lime wedges to garnish
2 cups cooked jasmine rice or 3 to 4 cups cooked rice noodles
Dipping sauce: Mix 2 ounces fish sauce, 2 ounces lime juice and 2 minced chilies, and use as dipping sauce for pieces of chicken.
In a 2-gallon pot, add 1 gallon water and the ginger, galangal, lemon grass and garlic, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the chicken, bring the water to a boil again, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover, adding more water as needed to cover the chicken. Cook the chicken for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through.
Remove the chicken from the liquid, but continue cooking the broth to reduce the liquid. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pick off the meat carefully, removing bones, skin and cartilage. Season the soup with lime juice, fish sauce and salt, and strain out the ginger, galangal, lemon grass and garlic. Add the chicken meat back to pot and adjust seasoning once again. Finish with 4 minced chilies, basil, cilantro, toasted garlic and lime wedges.
Serve with either noodles or rice.