Hog Butchering Demo & Brunch with Chef Justin Severino

The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.
— Michael Pollan
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Justin Severino

The Executive Chef and co-owner of Pittsburgh's acclaimed Cure and Morcilla restaurants. He is a James Beard nominated chef, winner of Food & Wine Magazine's “People’s Best New Chef, Mid-Atlantic” in 2014 and 2015, and was prominently featured on the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown: Pittsburgh episode in 2017. He has effectively made a convincing splash in the culinary world as Pittsburgh's de facto celebrity chef. On a balmy winter Sunday a couple weeks ago, Severino, along with the Morcilla crew, hosted a hog butchering demonstration and family-style brunch for 36 people. Perfectly spiced Bloody Marys were served, hog parts were used as telephones (you just had to be there), a massive, beautiful feast was devoured, and a grand ole time was had. This photo essay documents my experience as a guest at this unique event.

Warning: If images of a dead animal being hacked up by a mad man with a cleaver freak you out, now is the time to click away.

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After locating their seats and procuring either a Bloody Mary, a beer, or a coffee, brunch guests made their way down a long, bright banquet room to get a closer look at the man of the hour: The hog. Well, it was more of a half-hog, split right down the middle and displayed cut-side up on an enormous butcher block to showcase its inner porky workings. The hog laid patiently as folks swirled around him like a fine art installation they'd been dying to feast their eyes on for months.

Following an informative and comedic introductory-welcome, Chef Severino got to work on the hog. Using just a handful of knives and a few precise techniques, he broke down the big pink beast with the skill and ease of a seasoned pro. This little piggy didn't stand a chance.

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The cleaver made a dramatic appearance to assist with the separation of head-from-body, an important part of the demonstration. Oh, why was is it so important, you ask? I dunno, 'cause we got to see a fuckin' pig head get severed, ya nerds! Okay, all joking aside, it is crucial to note that Chef Severino doesn't just discard undesirable parts of the animal after dismembering it. In fact, quite the contrary. With the exception of a very small amount unusable parts, almost every piece of the hogs that come in for butchering at Justin's restaurants get used in some way.

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With the demonstration complete, Chef took a moment to answer a few questions from guests. As stomachs grumbled and heads exploded from hog information overload, it was naturally time for food. Right on cue, a beautiful, colorful array of exquisitely prepared dishes marched out from the kitchen and made its way to the two very large and very hungry communal tables in the dining room. Giant platters of charcuterie, roasted vegetables, corned beef hash, confit baby back ribs (what?! yes. that.), tortillas Española, and romaine salad were presented and served family-style.

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The favorite dish of the day was the confit baby back rib plate with pomegranate sherry caramel, coriander crunchy black olives, and scallion. Whaaat. Sticky, sweet, decadent, and packed with the perfect umami punch. I'll be dreaming about those little nuggets for a long, long time. Sweet churros with a chocolate hazelnut fondue were served as desert, but I inhaled them too quickly to snap a photo. #SorryNotSorry

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I hope I can speak for all the guests who attended when I say this experience was simply superb. It was casual, yet elevated. Simple, but out-of-this-world delicious. Educational and hilarious (come on, that's the best). No frills, no pressure, and overall, a great meal with great people. What more could yinz ask for? It was a damn good way to spend a Sunday, and it certainly brought the meaning of brunch to whole new level. I hope we all get to enjoy more unique events like this. Thank you, Chef Severino and crew for helping our city shine. 

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Justin and Hilary are opening a new restaurant in 2018!

The husband and wife duo, who own and operate Cure and Morcilla, will be teaming up with East End Brewing Company later this year to open a pub-style restaurant inside the brewery's East Liberty location. Keep an eye out for it this spring!

Kat RuttComment