Last weekend, I helped consume an entire suckling pig at Bestellen restaurant
By Jon Sufrin
It's officially 451 A.D. at Bestellen
Here is how I know that I live in one of the most civilized countries in the world: if I want to have a newborn piglet wrenched from its loving mother’s teat, slaughtered, rubbed with salt, injected with brine, roasted for four hours and placed on a platter purely for my own enjoyment, all that I have to do is call Bestellen restaurant.
This act of unimaginable cruelty has been rendered so simple that the only way I — an average Joe — cannot do it is if my fingers are too fat to properly dial Bestellen’s phone number. Of course, there are other places in the city where I can do the same thing (order an entire suckling pig to be consumed solely for my enjoyment, that is), but I decided to go with Bestellen because it’s new and I wanted to see what chef/co-owner Rob Rossi, a.k.a the Top Chef Canada finalist, would do with the pig.
There is something gratifying, in the most primeval sense, about having a baby animal cooked and served in its entirety. In nature, babies aren’t easy to come by. They usually have angry parents guarding them. Only an intelligent, strong animal can have another baby animal served to them on a platter. That is why, throughout history, powerful civilizations have made a ceremony out of consuming whole suckling pig: the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans.
So — I wanted a baby pig. How could I properly call myself a man if I hadn’t partaken in such an act of barbarism? I gave Bestellen the requisite 72-hours notice and gathered people to help me. A few days later, we walked into the brand new restaurant. It was big. Eighty seats. Terrazzo floors. A windowed meat-curing room. Cuts of beef covered in that desirable fungal crust. A mural paying homage to all things carnivore. Led Zeppelin was playing. It was an apt setting for the task at hand.
I approached the hostess and said, “I want baby pig.” Our swagger had already given us away, though.
The dinner began much like any other dinner. We ordered drinks, talked about what movies we had seen lately, chit-chatted. You know, mundane formalities. But then the chef opened up the oven, where our animal had been slowly roasting. A thick waft of pig seeped out from the open kitchen and overtook the room. At that moment, everything changed.
Everyone got giddy. It was a palpable giddiness. The servers, the customers, the cooks — even the vegetarians who had come along just to witness the whole spectacle — were all affected. I could feel the giddiness in my stomach. The smell of pork is always magical. It has a perfume that the aromas of beef, poultry or lamb simply do not have. Conversation at the table suddenly drifted to more interesting topics: emperors, gladiators, wars, pillaging. The giddiness only increased when a cook began blowtorching the pig’s skin for crispiness.
Then, two servers brought out the whole pig and set it on the table. They put it there so we could admire our animal before it was chopped to pieces. It was a pig, no doubt about it. Often, we’re distanced from the animals we eat: they’re minced, mixed with other things and packaged so that they’re nice and sparkly, like iPads. It’s very easy to pretend that there is no animal in our Big Macs at all. But this was clearly a dead pig. It was six weeks old and weighed exactly 25 pounds.
I wish I could say with certainty that this particular baby pig lived a life of luxury before sacrificing itself, albeit unwillingly, for us. But Rossi told me that this was just a “normal” pig. You see, the farms that raise special pigs, like Beretta Organic Farms or Perth Pork Products, usually don’t sell their baby pigs. They keep them so that they can be fed organic barley and organic oats and whatnot. They grow their pigs so that they can become delicious, full-sized pork chops.
Now, I am convinced that if Rob Rossi were a pig surgeon, the pig community would revere him. He could easily be a pig hero, but he has chosen to be a chef instead (props). Oinky was taken off the table, and Rossi carved it so quickly, with such surety, that it was clear he’s mastered the anatomy of swine. He gets it. The pig came back ready to eat. Our table applauded. We started pulling it apart with tongs.
I brought my plate to the pig carcass and took heaps of pork. There were lots of sides: lightly caramelized cauliflower, al dente white beans, crispy French fries and yellow, fluffy bread that had to have been related to pretzel somehow. It was great, all of it, but I was there for the pork.
I took a few bites. It tasted good, but the effect it had on me went beyond taste. Slowly, it began to feel a little more like 451 A.D. in the room, and I had the distinct impression that our party had, earlier in the day, experienced a great military victory against the Huns. It wasn’t long before I ditched my cutlery and began pushing hunks of baby pig into my mouth with my hands. I bit into a piece that was so buttery, so fatty, so porky, so moist and so salty that my eyes rolled back in ecstasy. My mind said, “this is good,” but my body said, “as long as you keep eating, you will be able to easily survive the winter and then set upon the task of preparing for next winter.”
I fell into what Anthony Bourdain would have described as a “blissed-out fugue state.” I didn’t talk very much. I didn’t think very much. My hands just kept pushing pork into my mouth. I took hold of the pig’s foot and gnawed at it. I grabbed a knife and cut the pig’s head in half. I scooped out a big chunk of the brain and ate it. It was superlatively chalky, and was equally as creamy.
“You just ate that pig’s memories,” someone commented.
Restaurants should serve pigs’ memories more often.
Eventually, the bliss state passed. When I emerged, I was in great pain. I had shoved so much pork into my stomach, in so little time, that I could hardly move. Other members of the group had gotten themselves into a similar pickle. I have a feeling that I was not the only one who reached a dissociative state through pork. But when the servers brought out dessert — chocolate ganache with salt flakes and crushed pistachios — I didn’t hesitate for a second. I paid for it later.
Lying in bed that night, in sheer agony, I was convinced that I would never need to eat another meal for the remainder of my life. I would subsist solely off the succulent baby fat that I had packed away. If I ever felt the need to taste food, I would need only to burp. Instead of constantly worrying about my next meal, I could focus on other things. Like ideas.
Eventually, I got hungry again. Yesterday, I almost had a pulled pork sandwich. I was this close. I am happy to say that I am pretty much back to normal. I may even find myself back at Bestellen soon eating some form of baby once again. I hear suckling goat is to die for. Rossi tells me he’d be happy to oblige.
Bestellen, 972 College St., 647-341-6769. Cost for a suckling pig is $59 per person, sides and fixings included.