In England. Where’s the beef? At Barbacoa.

In general you don’t often see England on a list of food destinations. There is a certain stereotype connected with the British and their food. It is not that they don’t have some great chefs hailing from the British Isles — Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey, Graham Kerr and Heston Blumenthal, to name a few — It is just that one doesn’t readily match the British with a particularly enticing dish in one’s mind. So when we left for England on our final “stage” of our year, I didn’t have have that glow of anticipation that I’ve had on our other trips.

Then I looked at our itinerary and saw that we would have lunch at Barbacoa (www.barbecoa.com), a restaurant of Jaime Oliver’s. That was interesting. Jaime has made quite a name for himself with his work around school lunch programs and his food revolution. He is, of course, a celebrity chef with a large following. His TV shows and his campaigns are all about encouraging people to cook for themselves which will lead to a better tasting and healthier diet.

At Barbacoa Jaime has joined forces with Adam Perry Lang, a United States chef who has worked with Mario Batali at CarneVino restaurant in Las Vegas (http://carnevino.com/) and has his own restaurant in New York City called Daisy May’s BBQ (http://www.adamperrylang.com/). Adam is an expert in meat.

The restaurant, which looks over St. Paul’s Cathedral, is on the second floor of a downtown shopping mall. The restaurant is supplied by their own butcher shop downstairs that also sells meat, poultry and game.

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Photos by Chelsea Lepore

The tie between the butcher shop and the restaurant is no surprise considering Adam’s keen interest in all things meat. He described in excited detail how he visits all of the farms where their meat comes from to understand how the meat is raised and to make sure that it is done in a sustainable fashion. He also regularly visits the abattoirs where the meat he buys is processed. He essentially supervises the slaughter and preparation of the carcasses that will be delivered to the Barbacoa butcher shop. He wants to assure that the meat is of the highest quality and is handled properly throughout the path from farm to table and this was evident as we enjoyed a good sized hamburger that had the taste of well aged beef.

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What he said fit into what we had seen on our visit up to that point as we had visited three large organic farms. One, a biodynamic farm as well, had their own abattoir. We saw first hand how organic crops and animals could be raised well and how animals could be processed in a humane way. We were invited into the abattoir to watch the processing of cows as it occured. They had nothing to hide and they didn’t prohibit photography. The work environment and the handling of the animals looked much different than the view we often see and hear about…much better.

Adam went on to say that it is not just getting the best quality meat that concerns him. He also has a young daughter and he wants to make sure that the world for her will not be put at risk by unsustainable farming practices. This is where Adam’s narrative began to break apart a bit in my mind. He followed this with a response to a question asking how he sources his vegetables and does he pay the same kind of attention to where they come from and how they are grown? His response…”I don’t really care much about vegetables. Someone else takes care of them.” He said that it is not his job to try and educate people about how they should be eating. The restaurant’s purpose is to provide people the food that they want in the best possible way. The people that come to Barbacoa expect to get large portions of high quality meat cooked perfectly and that is what he delivers. Hummm…

You see, if you care about sustainability and creating a food system that will meet the needs of the future and provide a healthy way of eating for your daughters and sons, you have to think a little less about meat and a little more about vegetables. There are many people that worry about the expected world population of 9 billion that will soon be upon us. They are wondering how we can feed all of those people. We currently produce enough food calories to feed 1 1/2 times the present world population (or 10 billion people) and yet there are almost 1 billion people going hungry. In order to feed more people we don’t need to produce more food. We need to use less food in non-food activity, like producing ethanol. And we need to use less food in feeding animals instead of people. The feed conversion ratio (the amount of feed it takes to produce 1 kg of meat) for cattle is somewhere between 8:1 and 50:1 depending on how you calculate it. That means it takes at least 8 kg of feed to get 1 kg of meat. If we ate less meat (note that I’m not saying no meat) there would be more food available for all. But the per capita consumption of meat around the world is increasing .

I thought that surely this attitude was not in line with Jaime Oliver’s philosophy regarding food. After all he is very publically speaking out on eating in a healthier fashion and is working to decrease obesity and diabetes in children. He must have contradictory views on what this restaurant seemed to be embodying versus his healthy food movement. I went to his website expecting to find an expression that was different than what his restaurant, Barbacoa, represents in London. I visited Jaime’s web page and under Food Philosophy found the following:

“My philosophy to food and healthy eating has always been about enjoying everything in a balanced, and sane way. Food is one of life’s greatest joys yet we’ve reached this really sad point where we’re turning food into the enemy, and something to be afraid of. I believe that when you use good ingredients to make pasta dishes, salads, stews, burgers, grilled vegetables, fruit salads, and even outrageous cakes, they all have a place in our diets. We just need to rediscover our common sense: if you want to curl up and eat macaroni and cheese every once in a while – that’s alright! Just have a sensible portion next to a fresh salad, and don’t eat a big old helping of chocolate cake afterwards.

,,,So when I talk about having a ‘healthy’ approach to food, and eating better I’m talking about achieving that sense of balance: lots of the good stuff, loads of variety, and the odd indulgence every now and then.” (emphasis mine)

Perhaps this restaurant is intended not for regular visits, but for “the odd indulgence every now and then” of overly-large portions of meat. The restaurant is a business and successful businesses try hard to provide the best customer experience. One should not expect Barbacoa to do any less. However, if Chef Lang is truly concerned about his daughter’s food future and health, he should care a little more about vegetables.

Ciao!

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3 thoughts on “In England. Where’s the beef? At Barbacoa.

  1. Great post and very informative. I love the photos and wish that all butcher shops looked so delicious!One thought on Chef Perry’s approach to “only” caring about meat. I respect the fact that he has chosen ONE thing to be so passionate about, dedicated to and educated about. Your points are informative and probably very accurate regarding the need to minimize the role of meat on the plate, however there are tons of people dedicated to that message and tons of people dedicated to sourcing sustainable, local fruits and vegetables. There really are not that many people talking to a broad audience about meat and how it is raised. There are even fewer people that know about let alone understand the issues with the slaughter (processing) of the animals. I think it is great that he is championing this message and if I had to guess about the types of fruits and vegetables that he eats, I would bet they are on par with his meat selections. The difference is that he takes makes those choices upon consultation of an expert, while he is the expert meat! -Ben

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