Field Trip #583: How To Confit A Pig’s Head With Robert Belcham

by Andrew Morrison | Refuel’s annual Whole Hog supper is on the immediate horizon (this Wed, Oct 27th), so I  popped in to the upstairs kitchen of sister restaurant Campagnolo yesterday to witness chef/co-owner Robert Belcham do the most vital work in his preparations. The task at hand was the main course for the nose-to-tail dinner. It sees a pig’s head centerpiece, from which many distinct nibblies are sourced. To supply the supper’s three seatings, Belcham needs to ready/confit 15 “heritage breed” Berkshire pig heads from Vancouver Island’s Sloping Hill farm, arguably the best pork supplier in the country.

The video above (please excuse the audio glitches) might prove a little disturbing to vegans, vegetarians and those omnivores who’ve forgotten where their guanciale and mortadella come from, so fair warning: I imagine it will freak out several of our readers, as I assume seeing the eyelashes burned off a dismembered pig’s head with a blowtorch may not be for everyone. If you don’t think it’s for you, save yourself and us the grief by not pressing play. If, however, you and the “circle of life” are big buddies and you love your authentic Spaghetti Carbonara (mmm, pig cheeks), go ahead and be fascinated. Our philosophy here is that it’s always wise to consider where your food comes from and the manner in which it’s prepared. It is in that spirit that we went on this particular field trip, and not in any adolescent desire to shock, so please enjoy…

Here’s the press release announcing the suppers.

Vancouver BC | Just shy of it’s one year anniversary, Refuel Restaurant & Bar announces a Whole Hog Dinner to be held Wednesday October 27. The Whole Hog Dinner was a highly anticipated annual event at Fuel Restaurant and the tradition is carried on at the much more casual and affordable Refuel.

Chef’s Ted Anderson and Robert Belcham will prepare a whole hog feast, designed to please the palate and connect diners to their food source. Guests will sit at communal tables and share in platters of nose to tail cuts of Sloping Hill Farm pork. Unique cuts and favorites such as whole confit pigs head, offal and slow roasted shoulder are to be expected and enjoyed. Dinner is complete with dessert featuring the main ingredient, pork

Whole Hog Dinner Details

Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Time: Three seatings available 6:00pm, 8:30pm, 11:00pm
Price: $49 (tax and gratuity excluded) Beer, wine and cocktail pairings available for an additional cost.
Reserve: Call 604-288-7905. Credit card # required to reserve a seat. 24 hour cancellation policy in effect.

About Refuel

  • Chef de Cuisine: Jane Cornborough
  • In the kitchen | Refuel
  • Refuel
  • Co-owner/Sommelier Tom Doughty
  • Refuel
  • GM Katharine Manson
  • Bone Marrow | Refuel
  • Buttermilk fried chicken | Refuel
  • In the kitchen | Refuel
  • Refuel
  • Refuel
  • Refuel
  • Cure charcuterie | Refuel
  • Co-owner/Executive Chef Robert Belcham

Refuel neighbourhood restaurant and bar was inspired by freshness. Veering away from an exclusive ‘fine dining’ experience into one that is more accessible, the new space welcomes with a playful, warm design by Marc Bricault that evokes a neighbourhood atmosphere where guests can sit back, socialize and be themselves. Guests may watch the kitchen brigade while sipping a handcrafted cocktail at the 12-seat bar, or gather around a table with friends while listening to music compiled by the experts at Kitsilano’s Zulu Records.

Refuel’s food philosophy focuses on affordable, honest, down-to-earth Northwest fare that celebrates seasonal, local ingredients. Open for lunch and dinner daily, with special brunch features on the weekends, the Refuel menu has an incredible selection of snacks, sides, starters, mains and plates to share that utilize quality ingredients and offer excellent value. At the bar, the focus is on thoughtfully prepared, classic cocktails, along with craft beer and approachable wines.


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There are 2 comments

  1. Fascinating. The pig’s frozen-in-perpetuity grin (at least until it gets carved for dinner) is a little disconcerting, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you cannot stomach thinking about the face of an animal, you should not be putting that animal’s meat in your stomach!

    I was thinking about the whole-animal approach to meat-eating recently, as I was picking little bits of turkey meat off a carcass I’d cooked for stock. The CBC website recently featured a story on “pink chicken goo” — the pulverized mess that turns into “mechanically-separated” products like chicken fingers and McNuggets. The expected reaction is supposed to be “ew, ick!” Jamie Oliver, in his efforts to improve school cafeteria food, uses chicken goo to scare kids away from the nuggets made from it.

    But mechanical separation makes use of meat that would otherwise be wasted: the little bits and pieces left over, trapped around the bones, after boneless, skinless chicken breasts have been sliced off and shrink-wrapped. Even most consumers who buy meat on the bone wouldn’t have been as persistent as I in separating out the last bits of meat (but hey, I’m cheap!). And if the meat doesn’t get used, if it gets thrown away, then a little bit of all the food and energy that has gone into raising that animal gets “wasted” as well. The big food processors may do it for economic reasons, not ecological ones, but either way, chicken goo is all about waste not, want not.

    So why does Robert Belcham’s pig’s head confit get the gourmet seal of approval, while mechanically separated meat is supposed to be scorned by any serious chef or foodie? You could claim it’s about taste, but let’s face it: a good chicken finger can be quite tasty when you’re in the right mood. The conclusion I came to was pretty much the same as the philosophy stated in Andrew Morrison’s comments: “it’s always wise to consider where your food comes from and the manner in which it’s prepared.” Belcham’s feast is about respecting and celebrating the animal that feeds us; chicken goo is about disguising the meat and distancing the final product from its source.

    The diners at Refuel will see their pig’s frozen grin, and will know the difference between a tender cheek and a crispy ear. Meanwhile, somewhere else the same evening, little kids eating at a diner will ask their parents whether chicken really have fingers.