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Sacramento chefs dish out the ultimate gut check

by Lovelle Harris

With dishes like the crispy, Mediterranean-inspired veal sweetbreads course at Taylor’s Kitchen to The Shady Lady Saloon’s bone marrow appetizer oozing with meaty, buttery goodness seducing diners throughout the region, it looks like the beastly Hannibal Lecter isn’t the only one craving innards, well, non-human innards, that is.

“When we put offal on the menu it sells pretty well,” says Patrick Mulvaney, restauranteur and offal fan. “Our customers trust us enough to try it.”

These “nasty bits,” you know, tripe, brains, liver, testicles, tongue, and a litany of other animal parts often reviled by the reluctant palette, will find their way into the bellies of voracious local foodies on Aug. 18, when all things offal will be celebrated at “Have an Offal Day!” at Mulvaney’s Next Door.

“I thought that there is so much you can do with offal, so why not have an offal day,” says Catherine Enfield, the brains behind the event. “As I always do, I always run my ideas by a bunch of people in the biz first, to see if it gains any traction, and after half a dozen chefs said, ‘oh yeah, I’d totally do that,’ then I knew that it was worth pursuing.”

Enfield’s gutsy soiree will feature offal offerings by food virtuosos from the kitchens of Enotria, Grange, Kru, Magpie Cafe, Lucca, Ella, Tuli Bistro, The Eatery, Mighty Tavern and Mulvaney’s B&L. With some of the most respected culinary artists in town presenting a tasting of animal parts, diners with have an opportunity to pick the brains of chefs like Billy Ngo, Adam Pechal and Patrick Mulvaney.

“So for me, this is a good opportunity to make sure that everybody is out there talking,” Mulvaney says. “[An event] like this is good practice, in a non-threatening way, for chefs to deal with the public.”

The odds and ends will be supplied by several local vendors specializing in quality ingredients. Purveyors like Passmore Ranch, Feeding Crane Farms, Bledsoe Meats, Emigh Lamb, Sonoma County Poultry, Liberty Ducks, Lucky Dog Ranch, Chowdown Farms and Sunh Fish will supply the chefs with the elements with which to forge their offal offerings—the short list of ingredients include pigs’ heads, beef hearts, duck gizzards and fish skin.

“Bledsoe has pig hearts, so it might be nice if we had the hoof, too, so we could do something like a heart and palm salad. For me I kind of look for the pun in the food,” Mulvaney hints. “It would [also] be pretty cool to have duck tongues and just a little bit of tomatillo salsa and make a taco shell out of duck skins and have a crispy duck tongue taco.”

At the event, the dishes will make their auspicious appearance at 2 p.m. with service ending at 5 p.m. The large banquet room at Mulvaney’s Next Door will be laid out much like the final Bacon Fest competition, Enfield says.

“The only thing difference between Bacon Fest and mine, is that there is no competition, because how can you compare duck tongues to lamb kidneys,” Enfield says. “It’s all for fun, so each chef is going to make their bite, small plate, appetizer, whatever it is, it needs to be something that waiters can pass around.”

For offal neophytes, eating organ meats can be, well, kinda foul. For many, the idea of consuming the entrails and internal organs of beasts isn’t very appetizing—even the event’s creator is a little put off by the prospect of dining on sweetbreads and intestines.

“Actually, for the most part no, I am not a fan of offal,” Enfield says. “I will be trying every item, even though I happen to know what everything is and I’m not exactly excited about some of them, but I will be trying all of them.”

For the fearless foodie, the afternoon promises to excite and surprise the palette. So what if you don’t know what you’re eating—Enfield says diners will experience the ultimate “nose-to-tail” experience but under a cloak of secrecy.

“The way I look at it, we have the top chefs in Sacramento and they’re going to make it taste good,” Enfield says. “We’re not going to tell the people what the items are, except to say that this is duck, this is lamb, until after the serving is done.”

Inspired by the success of Bacon Fest, Enfield’s vision is simple: to provide local chefs a forum with which to convey their appreciation for the whole animal, while exposing diners to a largely unknown facet of dining in the region. Enfield, also the blogger behind Munchie Musings, creator of the Sacramento Food Film Festival and co-creator of SactoMoFo, says the chefs are ready to delve into offal cooking.

“Anytime they get to play with the stuff it’s fun for them because it’s not something that they get to normally put on a menu, and yet there are a lot of great things that you can do with offal,” Enfield says. “So for them it’s challenging and different and exciting, so they’ve all been pretty excited, especially Hank Shaw, [he] is like kid-in-a-candy-store kind of excited,” Enfield says.

While many of the chefs are holding their creations close to their hearts, Enfield shared a bit of what the ravenous participants in this offal experiment can expect from one of the chefs, James Beard award-winning writer, Hank Shaw.

“I already know Hank is doing three [components to his dish],” Enfield says. “He has a duck book coming out in the fall, so he’s obviously going to be doing duck. I suspect there’s going to be three parts of the duck involved in his dish. A duck trio.”

Proceeds from the sold out event’s $50 ticket price will support the farm-to-fork initiative in Sacramento.

“It’s all for fun. I am pleasantly surprised with how the ticket sales are going so far. I’m just trying to make the ticket price very affordable, it’s just to cover costs. If there’s anything left over it will go to farm-to-fork,” Enfield says. “We’re aiming for 100 people, if we can get more, that would be awesome, but right now our goal is for 100.”

Sure, offal cuts aren’t as attractive as their counterparts, but whether you think offal should remain in the realm of  gross-out hijinks on the television show “Fear Factor” or extol feasting on the innards of animals as the ultimate food experience, the offal event promises to be anything but awful—even if fava beans paired with liver and a nice Chianti aren’t on the menu.

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