French meat is neat
Last week our class took a field trip to the Marché des Ternes. The goal was for us students to create our own menu and then shop together at the market for the ingredients. All went swimmingly, except that the sight of six multinational young ladies sniffing cepes and trailing a tall, jovial young Frenchman with wildly curling hair confused the shopkeepers and occasionally inspired lewd commentary from the saltier vendors.
"They are from all different countries!" our teacher exclaimed proudly in the boulangerie, the patisserie, the boucherie and the poissonnerie.
"Russia, Switzerland, America, Japan! And Australia!" he'd add, pointing at our translator.
The shopkeepers smiled gently back, always charmed by Chef David's exuberance. During the third introduction like this I began to skulk in the background, trying not to be identified as a member of our weird culinary harem.
After we picked up the goodies for our menu (we had decided that we would make crab and lobster stuffed zucchini cannelloni, guinea hen cooked en cocotte, and pears poached in spiced red wine with cardamom ice cream), we popped in to visit the school's official meat supplier, Boucherie Nivernaise on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Chef David sweet-talked them and before we knew it, they were offering to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of their processing facilities.
My classmate Nina was thrilled. At school we always discuss her dream of doing an internship at a butcher shop to learn about the different cuts of meat and, well, sometimes a girl's most lofty dreams can come true - even if for just an afternoon. We quickly donned white coats and hats and tried not to tumble down the series of wet, slippery steps that led into the work areas.
If we caused a stir at the market, you can imagine the kind of spectacle we created when we locked eyes with a roomful of greying, gritty men wielding huge knives and thwacking through even bigger pieces of beef.
Everything was cold, wet and white. Really cold. Meat locker cold. Oh wait, it was a meat locker. No wonder.
You know what else it was? It was exceptionally, sparklingly, pristinely clean. Everything was organized, sanitized, labeled and arranged. My friends know that on occasion I display irritatingly anal-retentive tendencies, and I freely admit that the immaculate white expanse of Boucherie Nivernaise spoke soothingly to these most uptight, obsessively tidy parts of my soul.
We learned a bit about how their products are processed, and how the French system of meat tracking works. Everything that enters the facility has been previously tagged with a label describing the type of meat, the place it was raised, who produced it and when. Accountability is a good thing.
After touring the place, I can't say that I myself am dying to intern there (too chilly!), but our little side trip certainly provided a clearer picture of one small part of an animal's journey from field to table.
Halfway through the journey.
99 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré