As part of Cochon Heritage Barbecue week, I reached out to the competing chefs to run a few questions by them, so that we could all get to know the players that will be cooking this weekend.
This time, we’ve got Steven Grostick from the Toasted Oak Grill and Market in Novi, Michigan joining us. His team is made up of him, Jeff Bolton from Denver, and Matt Christianson from Portland. Steven’s passion fits in perfectly with the Cochon ideals and made for an awesome interview. I’m not going to spoil too much, because he says it all better than I can. On we go!
Cochon Chef Interview
Introduce yourself and let us know a little about you. Thanks!
I’m Steven Grostick, Executive Chef of Sage Restaurant Group’s Toasted Oak Grill and Market Novi, Michigan (a suburb of Detroit). I’m a born and bred Michigan Boy with a great passion for knowing where my food comes from and the use of ‘Pure Michigan’ ingredients.
I have practiced pasture-to-fork cooking most of my career, from Michigan harvest vegetables, fresh lake fish, and all of the local farm foods available here; I am deeply rooted in cooking Michigan food. Here’s an example of what I mean:
What lured you into competing in Cochon Heritage BBQ?
Cochon Heritage BBQ is an event envied by many of my colleagues and this competition is a perfect complement to what I practice every day at Toasted Oak –total utilization of a Heritage Breed Hog. We receive 2-4 whole Hogs per month and utilize in BBQ, Michigan-influenced menu items, as well as a wide variety of Charcuterie. The event speaks to a dying art of butchering in-house and getting creative from snout to tail. Based on all of this, there was no way I would pass up on an opportunity of this nature to help influence and inspire other chefs to practice this in their own restaurants. Being two-fold, I cannot wait to see what the other chefs competing have to offer so that I may also be inspired. Being involved in the COCHON555 Tour in Chicago a few years back, I know Brady throws one hell of an event and I cannot wait to see what the Memphis event has to offer!
In addition to a competition, Cochon is really about highlighting heritage breed pork. What’s your take on heritage breeds and why they’re important?
I consider myself very passionate about helping to keep the small farms alive, from produce to meat products. Heritage breed hogs are important to me for various reasons. Knowing where your food comes from is the most influential reason of all. Knowing the practices of the farmer, helping in any way we can as a restaurant to educate our guests in the heritage of the small farms and what they consume gives us all a sense of pride in what we do. Of course, for those of us who practice this it’s harder than opening a “big box” of pork racks and creating a menu item with better yield and little to no waste, however, it’s worth every bit of the work.
Using heritage breeds helps us stimulate the local economy, keeping small farms in business and keeps us as a restaurant “local.” Heritage breeds taste better and work better for our individual needs. I would much rather have a hog raised with sun on its back, ears that hang over its eyes, a curly tail and eats from its natural environment than an industrial raised pig with lower fat content which was bread for better yield. It’s plain and simple, fat is flavor, a fat hog is a happy hog, and in turn makes a great meal!
What breed of pig will you be using in the competition? Why’d you pick that one?
Duroc, I have created a special relationship with this breed as I have helped to raise 4 of them myself.
What most excites you about your visit to Memphis?
BBQ! I will be frequenting as many joints as I possibly can in the couple of days down there. And maybe a trip to Graceland if I can fit it in!
For the Memphis readers, if they were to travel to your town, what three places would you recommend they go to eat?
Of course, you all need to come and meet us at Toasted Oak Grill and Market in Novi, Michigan. The Root Restaurant and Bar in White Lake, Michigan also feels the same way we do about food and they do a great job practicing local Michigan fare. Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan is an outstanding BBQ joint (for us Michiganders!) ,and the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, Michigan is also a top spot.
Lastly, rapid fire:
Ribs, dry or wet: Dry
Barbecue ribs or sandwich: Ribs
Bourbon – what’s your favorite: Traverse City Whiskey Company, Straight Bourbon
Neat or on the rocks: Neat, puts hair on your chest.
Two things are clear to me after this conversation with Steven. First, I can’t wait to see what his team puts together this weekend, as I know it will be awesome. Second, I’m going to find a way to get to the Toasted Oak ASAP.
But, aside from my desire for food (as Jenna Mulrooney on 30 Rock would say, “me want food”), what really struck me was his passion for the heritage breeds and the local farmers. Supporting those ideals as consumers makes it easier for chefs to use those products and for farmers to make them. It is a cycle that really starts with us asking for (and paying for) the best, whether that is the best flavor, the best breeds of animals, the best varieties of produce, the best farming conditions, or whatever. The farmers and chefs all want to provide it, but it is up to us to make it known that we want it and are willing to pay for it. To me, it is worth it every time.
I can’t wait for the weekend. See you there!
You want to go to there: