“So why is it called pulled pork?” she asked with naive anticipation. “Well,” I said as I scraped the very last flecks of flesh from the fibrous knot of muscle with my tongs, “the shoulder has been brined overnight and then slowly roasted for ten hours. This makes the meat so succulent and tender that you can literally pull the meat apart with your fingers”. I was sweating from the effort. I put down the tongs and poked the porky tumour with the tip of my knife. How the fuck is this meat still intact? What else do I have to do to it? I started running the blade back and forth across the pork as I watched the frosty winter air turn the juices to orange lard. The fibres pinged one by one as the knife passed through, relieving some of the tension in the stubborn nugget. I heard once of a cable snapping on a oil tanker. It cut a man in half. I wondered if my pork harnessed that sort of potential energy. I wet the dry meat with lashings of tangy sauce and passed over the sandwich. I took her fiver and savoured her kind smile and friendly eyes knowing I would never see them again. Another punter, seduced by the empty promises of my blackboard, approached. I covered the remains with a piece of foil. “Sorry mate, completely sold out”. He looked gutted. I closed the hatch and hid.
The shed belonged to a butcher – the meat supplier of the restaurant where I made coffee. The restaurant owner and I had become friendly with this intimidating chap. A bear of a man with boxer’s hands and a bloodied apron. It was part of the dream. He was the essence of butchery and our bond of flesh, bone and blood legitimised us as budding restauranteurs. I spent a week clearing the out-house of cobwebs, filling the rat holes with cement and scrubbing back an old butcher’s bench with wire wool and bleach. I sealed the concrete floor with a shock of blood red paint – a homage to the animals that had supplied their flesh and my sacred oath I would honour them. “You should do burgers,” he said.
Every Thursday afternoon I would prep the meat in the restaurant office. The chefs found it difficult to tolerate my intrusion. That kitchen was balanced with culinary feng shui and I was taking a dump in the sandpit every time I took the boning knife or moved a tea towel. The office became my prep area. Amongst invoices and boxes of wine I would lovingly season the pork shoulders with smoked chipotle, fennel seeds, dried onion, mustard powder and salt. My fingers would stain from working the rub into the crackling scores. The following day I would take the marinated meat from the cold store, smoke it with oak chips on the stovetop and seal it in foil with a slick of cider vinegar and water to keep the massive neck ends from drying out. The sous chef was to deploy the glistening pork bombs into the oven after service. As you peeled back the foil, the rendered fat would gush forth coloured blazing amber with roasted spices. Ten hours of cooking would break the pork down. It would fall apart in your hands like a love letter retrieved from a fire.
The sous chef looked at me the following morning as I looked at her for an explanation to why my pork was still in the fridge. Fuck you for asking me to do ANYTHING after a Friday night’s service. Fuck you for getting me in trouble. Fuck you for taking my boning knife and moving my tea towel, and fuck you for coming in here and glory cooking you half-arsed wannabe prick. It’s amazing what you can pick up from a single expression. I was at the shallow end of a learning curve that was not steep enough. The restaurant hired a new head chef who liked to get his meat from smallholdings in the Orkneys. The Orkneys are the Notting Hill of meat production. The pigs are macro-biotic and have names like Artemis or Winklepop. The butcher didn’t take kindly to this. “At that price that meat is coming in on a Polish truck I promise you that”.
The email that ended it cut straight to the point and the bone. “The meat wasn’t even cooked properly most of the time. I thought there was going to be a bit of variety not just some dodgy bits of pulled pork. I wanted you to do burgers”. I hope he enjoys his new shed.