When I ran into Murray Street’s Chef Steve Mitton in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, he was a man on a meaty mission. In addition to attending Terroir where he had the opportunity to hang with his culinary mentor, Fergus Henderson, the UK’s godfather of Nose to Tail Cooking, he had lined up apprenticeships (or “stages” as they are called) at a couple of the city’s most renowned butcher shops including Sanagan’s Meat Locker in grungy Kensington Market and Olliffes in the posh Rosedale neighbourhood.
“I’m going to get my hands dirty, hone my skills and hopefully get some ideas about take-home meals,” said Mitton, who announced last November that he will be turning over the reins in the kitchen at Murray Street in order to set up a second meat-lover’s Mecca around the corner on Dalhousie Street — a combination gourmet take-out food shop, butchery, artisan meat and cheese deli/lunch counter. The new Murray’s Market (a partnership with Paddy Whelan who co-owns Murray Street) is currently under construction and scheduled to open in early May.
I stopped by the restaurant to see Mitton after his return from Toronto last week to find out what he learned from his Hogtown counterparts. He had butchered animals by day and in the evenings feasted on platters of the finest artisanal cold-cuts in some of the city’s hottest carnivorous hang-outs including the aptly named Beast. He says he discovered a close-knit group of butchers, chefs, and restaurateurs who are banding together rather than being competitive. “It was really eye-opening. It’s a really great community,” he says. “And it was good to see my butcher skills are on par.”
With visions of cassoulet in mason jars dancing in his head. Mitton returned to Ottawa pumped full of ideas for the new Murray’s Market. At the same time, he was processing the news that has radically altered his vision for the shop. He found out that due to the prohibitive costs required to meet provincial meat processing regulations, it will be impossible to stock his deli with his own house-made prosciutto, capicolla, salami, and chorizo — what he calls “all the nice fancy stuff.” While he will be able to continue to make his own pates, terrines, and fresh sausages, he won’t be able to make anything fermented, dried or requiring nitrates. “All the stuff you see hanging with the white mold, that’s the stuff I wanted to make,” he says.
Clearly Mitton is disappointed that his plans to become a Master Charcutier have been thwarted, but he seems to be able to console himself with the idea of connecting locavore foodies to a new level of carnivorous pleasures while supporting his favourite local farms: whether its the heads, trotters, and hocks of Large Black pigs from Upper Canada Heritage Meat, Rideau Arcott lambs, or Dan O’Brien’s cows. “I like what David Kinch [a California chef who spoke at Terroir] said. It’s not just about using local, it’s about getting the best of what’s available,” says Mitton, “Local is just another way of saying it.”