Interview: Anya Fernald (Belcampo Meat Co. + Home Cooked)
In the past decade, Anya Fernald has become a force for sustainability in California. Starting in 2006, she was Slow Food Nation executive director, working alongside Alice Waters to celebrate “slow food,” an effort that included a massive 2008 festival in San Francisco. In 2009, she launched the annual Eat Real Festival, which is still going strong in Oakland’s Jack London Square. In 2011, she co-founded Belcampo Meat Co. with Todd Robinson, specializing in vertically integrated meat production from farm to table (and butcher case). Most recently, Fernald wrote the Home Cooked cookbook. We met at Belcampo’s Santa Monica restaurant and butcher shop, where she signed cookbooks and shared insights.
Joshua Lurie: How did you decide which recipes to include in Home Cooked?
Anya Fernald: I decided which recipes to include based on everything I love to cook, and whatever gets me the most compliments over the years. “How did you make this?” Or “What did you do?” I looked at all of those. I had some that were too simple and too basic, and more that were too complicated, basically my way of chilling out. One example would be making mortadella. That’s something I used to do a lot of, or making bresaola. Sometimes cured meats or a really complicated lasagna recipe that takes all day, I kept those in, then realized they might be very hard to replicate and might turn people off and take up a lot of pages. I kept to the middle of the bell curve in terms of approachability.
JL: What are the defaults that you make for your family most often?
AF: My basic would be cooking veggies in olive oil and finishing with sofrito. One of the recipes I use in the book is sofrito, which I pre-make and freeze. I always have that on hand and cook fennel until it’s tender in olive oil and toss with a couple teaspoons of sofrito to finish it, like mirepoix. It’s rich and yummy and adds a lot of umami.
I also do lots of basic things. One thing I learned in Italy that I love is to make veggies more tender. Here we like things to be very fresh. Like green beans, basically overcook them and dress with lots of olive oil. I make that all the time.
For mains, I always have our sausages on hand. I use those a lot. I also rely on flank steaks. I like to have something like pork tenderloin or leg of lamb deboned. I cut into steaks and grill it up. It’s always fast to do grilled meat.
JL: How far along would you say you are in your mission to get people to eat better meat?
AF: This book is in some ways a long game in terms of getting people to make that change in America. What I was realizing is that we have a lot of great conversations with people from behind the butcher counter. Most people that are shopping in the restaurant are very intimidated by what is here. It’s funny to me because there’s this race in America to make all these great apps to save us time, to pick up your laundry, to park your car. My question is, “What are you guys doing with all this extra time?” Yeah, you can work, but there are only so many hours in the day to work. Discovering cooking to feed yourself, but also cooking as a way of handling anxiety and handling the stress of everyday life, nurturing and taking care of family or expressing love, it does a lot of other things for us. Going at it that way and rediscovering food as a hobby and as a way to heal yourself and feel better and build connections and building community, is great. That was my thinking. What if I put something in there that isn’t just how to cook our meat? We can do that down the road, a burger book or a grilling book. It’s more about how to make food a part of your life in an enriching way. In terms of where I am in my journey, this is more about making that longer play and a longer story, getting people to think about food differently.
JL: What are the limits to Belcampo? Any chance to expand acreage or beyond California?