By Jardine Libaire
Photography by Andy Sams
On a recent dove hunt, Jesse Griffiths, the red-bearded, easy-spoken chef of Dai Due fame, foraged for greens while he walked the fields with his gun—picking pigweed for sautéing and purslane for a salad to make once the doves were grilled.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” he says.
The thinking that brought that meal to culinary fruition is the foundation of Griffiths’s Dai Due Supper Club—an Austin phenomenon famous for offering family-style feasts of local, organic, sustainable foods. In a short time, Dai Due has expanded beyond the plate to include classes on everything from simple tomato preserves to butchering and utilizing a whole hog. And now, under the watchful eyes of Griffiths and partner Tamara Mayfield, Dai Due’s evolution includes an Old World-style butcher shop—freshly opened at the downtown Austin Farmers’ Market.
Specializing in handmade link and bulk sausages, condiments like Fireman’s #4 Mustard, fresh terrines and pâtés, ready-to-cook items like pear-stuffed quail and staples like non-hydrogenated lard, stuffings and stocks, the Dai Due Butcher Shop uses only locally sourced ingredients, with the infrequent exception (organic grade B maple syrup in the country sausage, for example). Griffiths and Mayfield say they usually try to avoid being stylish or trendy in their business practices, but the effort appears to be moot. Their philosophy of aesthetics, ethics and culture reflects the growing regard for terroir, or the belief that the unique characteristics of a food’s location, time and culture are imbued into its flavor. The notion includes consuming local, seasonal foods, prepared in a way that has historical resonance with the land, and wasting little, if any. The concept is suddenly the darling of the culinary world, and the backbone of Dai Due.
In creating a Butcher Shop menu item, certain considerations come into play. Griffiths doesn’t think prosciutto has much of a place in Austin, for example. “We didn’t have the mountain caves to hang it in,” he says, “but our German and Alsatian heritage leads to bratwurst and liverwurst, our Mexican heritage to chorizo and our proximity to Cajun life yields Toulouse and boudin sausage.”
From local, organic farms come fresh herbs, rich eggs and pastured poultry; from the ranches come pastured, grassfed game and meat. The Hill Country grows fresh fennel seeds, marjoram, hot peppers, sweet onions and jujubes—the red dates that Griffiths makes into a paste similar to Spanish quince-based membrillo. He even used wild plums—picked from a Target parking lot—in a terrine. The point, he says, is not to reinvent, but to rediscover what we should be eating around here.
The new Butcher Shop serves as a bridge, too, between our intentions as consumers and our realistic capabilities. We might like to make 12 different items from one harvested cow, but it’s not possible in our home kitchens. What we can do is support the artisan who transforms a pastured, grassfed animal into a spectrum of staples and delicacies, while the artisan, in turn, supports the progressive farm. Kay and Jim Richardson, of Richardson Farms, say that Griffiths has been instrumental in getting their meats established around town. Because of this, production is growing and the farm now supports two generations of the Richardson family. Advancements like these are essential to changing our nationwide system of food production.
Dai Due customer Dana Wesson freezer-stocks Butcher Shop provisions and assembles dinners in a heartbeat: Broken Arrow Ranch antelope and jalapeno sausage, Fireman’s #4 Mustard, honeyed applesauce, rye bread and pinot noir. Wesson says that so much care and quality go into Dai Due’s products that there’s simply no comparison.
And for those who boycott feedlot meats, the Butcher Shop is heaven-sent. Nancy Mims and her family avoid meat in restaurants because they don’t know the source and can’t trust the quality, but their fridge is jammed with Dai Due products. Mims says she flashed back to childhood after tasting Griffiths’s liverwurst made with Richardson pork liver and jowls, and spiced with caraway, mace and marjoram.
Liverwurst and lard are much maligned these days as they’re often overprocessed and impure. But when done right, these items merit a second chance. Griffiths laments the culinary prejudices in this country. Offal, for example, terrifies many, but from a grassfed animal, it’s actually one of the most nutritious things you can eat, according to Griffiths. “If wolves kill a caribou and a bear is approaching to scare them off,” he says, “they’ll nab the heart, spleen and liver for maximum nutrition before escaping. They’re not going to go for the tenderloin.” He also points out that around here, we’ll eat a “cute” lamb or an even “cuter” bunny, but not a goat—an animal that thrives in Central Texas.
Luckily, instead of preaching about a new way of eating, Griffiths demonstrates and provides one. Butcher Shop customers can rest assured that handcrafted delicacies, both traditional and innovative, will be fresh, in season and at the ready.
Find the Dai Due Butcher Shop every Saturday from 9am–1pm at the Austin Farmers’ Market. For more visit daidueaustin.com.