A pig and beer dinner benefits cancer research
It was pouring rain that was nearing snow in the mountains, and “the city folk” who’d driven up to ReRide Ranch still wanted to go see the pig, joked rancher Lefty Ayers. They insisted, even though his house was plenty warm, with an elk pot roast in the iron pot in the fireplace.
But trudge out to see the pig the guests did. It was, after all, a female Berkshire-Hampshire pig that would go to slaughter the next morning and become part of every one of the many dishes chefs Bruce Kalman and Gavin Mills would make that week to raise money for a cause many chefs had grown fond of: Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which raises funds for childhood cancer research.
Kalman, of Urbano Pizza Bar in downtown Los Angeles, and Mills, executive chef at Wood + Vine in Hollywood, got their pig on Thursday and went to work for a dinner for about 75 people Sunday at Urbano. The event was named “Pig & Beer,” with beers for each course chosen by Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune, known as the Beer Chicks. It started out with a “Pig-Tail Hour” and ended with chocolate-covered smoked porter bacon with truffle salt.
In between, the dishes included porchetta that cooked five hours in Urbano’s pizza oven; ravioli with red stripes of pig blood pasta and stuffed with ricotta, bacon and greens; “Gavin’s luscious pig cheeks”; a pork roulade stuffed with dates; pizzas with Brussels sprouts, bacon and Parmesan cream; shaved vegetable salad with slices of crispy pig’s ears and Meyer lemon. Dessert included an apple bacon upside down cake with bourbon whipped cream. Mills, who buys a half pig a week from ReRide, is known for his charcuterie and made spleen pâté, head cheese and country pâté.
The staff at Urbano donated its time, and the products were donated too; tickets were $50, and 100% of the proceeds went to Alex’s Lemonade Stand. A couple of hours before the guests arrived, Kalman directed the staff to get wood burning in the ovens. A little later, the charcuterie was sliced, herbs were pulled from stems, sauces heated.
Beaune and Perozzi said choosing the beers posed an interesting intellectual exercise, because they had to imagine the dishes rather than taste them. Among their choices were a Belgian-style abbey ale from the Lost Abbey in San Marcos and a smoked porter from Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido.
The guests included Ayers and his wife, Vicki; Alex Weiser, a farmer who donated some of the produce; and Larry Vincent, father of a 13-year-old girl fighting cancer and who represented the charity. He said it has raised $50 million for cancer research since its founding in 2000.
Ayers got huge applause and appreciative laughs for his tale. A week before the event, Kalman and Mills drove up to ReRide Ranch with a few others in tow –- to see the pig and chew the (pork) fat with Ayers.
It wasn’t always an ordinary conversation. “We need a little bit of blood,” Kalman says, adding, “We’re going to have a couple of dare courses.”
Outside, the ReRide pigs ran toward the guests, hoping for food. When one large pig seemed to take to Mills, despite his T-shirt proclaiming, “Bacon gives me a lardon,” Kalman jokes: “They like Gavin more. They have no idea what they’re getting themselves into.”
Later, Ayers tells them about some other dinners that have included his pigs, such as the one they roasted on a spit in the parking lot of a Hyatt hotel. “Having pigs is nice,” Ayers says. "We go to some pretty swanky places we wouldn’t otherwise afford.”
-- Mary MacVean
Photos: From top: Kalman, right, and Mills prepare a pork course; charcuterie plate with house-made mustard and pickles; pizza ovens, decorated with a "Mr. Bacon" magnet. Credit: Dan Cox.