Twenty-year-old culinary student Chanty Gaskin was worried that she might get queasy watching a whole hog butchering demonstration at the Art Institute of Charleston's kitchen on Saturday morning.
"I was kinda scared at first," Gaskin said, shortly after the demo was over. "To see it from beginning to end was awesome."
Nathan Thurston, the chef de cuisine at Kiawah Island Golf Resort's The Ocean Room and an instructor at the institute, held the free demonstration as part of the institute's open house on Saturday and as a way to demonstrate the responsibility chef's have in the "Farm to Table" movement.
The movement seeks to re-establish the small, local farm in the United States. Thurston used a heritage breed Tamworth hog from Keegan- Filion Farms in Walterboro in the demonstration and frequently underscored the difference between sustainably farmed, heritage hogs and the "commodity" hogs raised in factory farms.
He compared the difference to that between an heirloom tomato, which is colorful, juicy and only available a month or two every year, and a generic, tasteless tomato available year-round in supermarkets.
A key component, however, of making a sustainable, locally grown food chain feasible is by reducing waste. And he managed to show students and the occasional open house passerby that using the whole hog -- except maybe the eyeballs (which cloud up broth) -- possible.
"There is not anything we waste on this (hog)," Thurston said. "As a result, we're respecting Mother Nature. We need to treat food like this because that's how food deserves to be treated. We should not waste parts of the animals. The discussion here is about supporting local farmers. It's easier for farmers to sell you a whole pig, because if he doesn't have to process this he can turn it around quicker and focus on growing more pigs. It's a full circle."
In turn, chefs -- who will pay more for a heritage breed hog -- can maximize the profit from the animal.
During Saturday's demonstration, Thurston went through the entire process: removing organs, the head, isolating the shoulder, splitting the shoulder, isolating the butt, slitting the pelvic area, splitting the hog into loin and ham, isolating the hams, removing the leaf lard, removing the diaphragm muscles, removing the tenderloin, isolating the sirloin and isolating the rib loin section from the belly.
At points when cutting ribs and bacon off the hog, some in the crowd, which ranged in size from 20 to 40 people, oohed and ahhed, asking if they could take some of the cuts home with them.
Rick Jerue, president of the Art Institute of Charleston, said the institute, Thurston and other culinary faculty members are committed to supporting local food, heirloom products and sustainability.
"Chefs here believe in 'Farm to Table' and I think that's why Charleston has become a culinary destination," said Jarue, noting that the largest single program at the institute is its culinary one -- 220 of its 800 total students are in the program.