Hot Chef: Phil Conlon gets high on the hog
Chef Phil Conlon has worked in restaurants since age 14, but never planned on working in the kitchen until attending a cooking class in college and, as he puts it, “playing with knives all day.”
“I was like, ‘This is the best thing ever! That’s it.’ And from then on I was back of the house,” Conlon says.
Now at Swine, he not only gets to play with knives, but with pig heads, duck fat and various animal organs. The centerpiece of Swine’s menu is its housemade salumi and charcuterie. Each dish is paired with locally-made jam, mustard and pickles, and served on a long wooden board. It’s rich stuff — a dab’ll do you — particularly with a cold drink and a bunch of folks to share with. “I wanted to create a menu for a place where I would want to go on my day off — and the food that I want to eat,” Conlon says.
How did you get in to charcuterie?
I think it’s every chef’s dream to work in a charcuterie restaurant, just playing with all different parts of different animals and finding ways to utilize them. So at different restaurants I’ve worked at throughout the years I’ve always seen different aspects of it. … You take scraps of things and turn them into other ingredients to make them better. That’s the whole point of charcuterie: Utilize everything.
Where did you learn the technique?
From different chefs that I’ve worked with. Other stuff I just learned on my own, like duck proscuitto, the beef tongue pastrami — I tasted pastrami at a lot of different restaurants, like the Second Avenue Deli and Katz’s, to see what the flavor profile was. And then I did a lot of reading on how to cook tongue. Finally, I asked the guys in the kitchen how they cooked their tongue. The Mexican guys, their favorite taco is lengua, so they have the best way to cook the tongue. And then I just pieced everything together and came up with recipes, and tried and tried until I came up with something I was really happy with.
Do you think that there’s a daredevil quality to using organ meats and traditional preservation techniques?
Yeah, because then you want to see what other, like, horrible parts of animals — some people would say — how to make them good. You want to find the best way to do it. And a lot of people get a little freaked out by things like tongue and head — but you can’t be afraid to eat them. This is a different era — things are refrigerated a lot better than they used to be, and things don’t have to be preserved as much. And there’s better-quality stuff on the market than there was, you know, 50 years ago or 20 years ago. So people shouldn’t be afraid of what they have to eat.
Rilettes: a pâté of minced meat
Head cheese: meat from the head of an animal suspended in aspic, a gelatin made from meat stock
Torchon: a preparation in which meat is wrapped tightly in cloth and cooked
Terrine: a loaf of meat or vegetables baked in a dish and served cold
Lardo: Pork fat cured with salt and herbs
If you go
531 Hudson St.
212-255-7675 or 7676