Artisan Series
18 décembre 2017
ARTISAN SERIES : PHILLIP VIENS
A random instalment of nice people who make great things
Theo Diamantis
ARTISAN SERIES : PHILLIP VIENS
© Marc Gagnon

Phillip Viens : Charcutier, and All-Around Cool Dude

There has been a plethora of great charcuterie being produced in Quebec over the last few years. Gone are the days when the few options we had were shitty baloney, mock chicken, and something that was supposed to be ham but was more akin to pinkish-grey mystery meat. In stride with other great artisanal scenes, like thoughtfully sourced meat, third-wave coffee and natural wines en masse, quality charcuterie is now easy to find in restaurants and shops.


And we can thank people like Phillip Viens for that, a super-talented charcutier and all-around cool 32–year old dude from Granby QC who infuses deliciousness, skill and quality into his cured meat. I asked him a few questions about how his skills and philosophy the other day.

Basically, I started by making sausages at l'Express and dry-cured products at DNA. I kept going because I believed charcuterie could be really delicious.

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Phillip Viens

oenopole : Hey Phil, where did you go to school and what did you study?


Phillip Viens : I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver. I went to college there at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) studying robotics and automation. I dropped out when I realized it was all math, and that my job cooking was much more satisfying. Probably a huge missed opportunity considering where the world is going. Oh well.


oe : Did you have any formal training in cooking?


PV : I didn’t go to school to learn how to cook. I almost completed an apprenticeship at L’Express, but apparently I’m not good at following through with education. I just worked super hard and studied when I wasn’t working. I’m the nerd who buys cooking textbooks to learn techniques. I even have some cooking lab activity books.


oe : What are some of the restos where you have worked?


PV : It’s not exactly a long list. I started as a dishwasher at Cactus Club Cafe, which is a chain of restaurants in Vancouver. After about a year on the line I moved to Montreal. I did a couple of years at L’Express, and then I moved up the ranks at DNA, and finally was the Chef de Cuisine for the first few years at Maison Publique.


oe : What inspired you to make charcuterie?


PV : Inspiration might be a big word. Basically, I started by making sausages at l'Express and dry-cured products and DNA. I kept going because I believed charcuterie could be really delicious.


oe : How long have you been making charcuterie?


PV : I’ve been making charcuterie for about a decade.


oe : What are some of the issues with the "conventional” charcuterie?


PV : There are many. One of the big ones, like in most industries, is that products are made with the primary goal of generating profit. So you never really get your money’s worth. Even if you find it inexpensive.


oe : What are your thoughts on the scale of production associated with charcuterie? The quality of ingredients, the treatment of animals, the environment?


PV : I think all of these go hand in hand with what I mentioned above. Conventional charcuterie, like any conventional agro-product, is made in a 'beyond human' scale with profits in mind above all else. With this you get the poor treatment of animals, which are living / breathing / feeling creatures, turned into pure commodities. You get the use of excessive chemicals as preservatives and facilitators to increase speed of production as well as production-line manufacturing. It’s not that I am against business growth and technology, but I find that both can be dangerous when cost cutting and profits become of equal or greater importance than quality assurance. And I mean quality in all aspects: product quality (taste, scent, texture, etc.), safety, quality of life for the animals, and even quality of life for the people who make the products.


I believe in using the whole animal. This is a bit easier with charcuterie, since the majority of products are made with less-used cuts of meat. It’s also very important for me to know where the animal comes from.

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Phillip Viens

oe : What is your "philosophy" behind making charcuterie?


PV : Quite simple: I try to make everything as well as I can, and not waste raw materials.


oe : Like using the whole animal?


PV : I believe in using the whole animal. This is a bit easier with charcuterie, since the majority of products are made with less-used cuts of meat. It’s also very important for me to know where the animal comes from. I find it important to cultivate relationships with farmers. So much of what we do is based on trust. Anyone can buy a whole animal from an industrial farm and call himself or herself a whole animal butcher. It’s important that you trust who you buy from and work with.


oe : Where does your inspiration for making charcuterie come from? Italy? France? Spain?


PV : Many places. I don’t think you can be making cured meats and not be inspired by European traditions. I did an internship in Germany at Fleischerei Scheller. A great family-run butcher shop. It was there that I really picked up on the more advanced level techniques that they use in Europe to ensure constant high quality. It’s also one of the places that really showed me the importance of regional variations.


Here’s a great example: In Empelde (now part of Ronnenberg near Hanover) they make a particular type of ham called Klinkerschinken, in other words, ‘Brick Ham’. The tradition started a long time ago when the kingdom of Hanover banned the imports of cured meats from the surrounding area to support the powerful butchers guild in the city. They would smuggle the hams in with shipments of bricks. Amazing story, amazing ham. This really helped cement (pun intended) the concept that artisans in Europe make their products not just for quality, but also for tradition, culture and community.


I try to use European techniques as mush as possible, and apply them to my recipes (which I admit are mostly Italian in style), using local ingredients as much as possible to make products that reflect my taste, my community, and my vision of Montreal culture within the realm of what I do.


oe : Is making artisanal charcuterie difficult?


PV : I’ve always said that making charcuteries is easy, but it’s also easy to get wrong. There are lots of opportunities to ruin your product. I’d also say that like most things, it’s easy to do reasonably well, but very difficult to achieve excellence. You really get out of it what you put in. From the choosing of raw materials, to the care you take in cutting, seasoning, stuffing, culturing, aging, and even slicing. The amount of care and attention you put in really comes through in the final product.


I try to use European techniques as mush as possible, and apply them to my recipes (which I admit are mostly Italian in style), using local ingredients as much as possible to make products that reflect my taste, my community, and my vision of Montreal culture within the realm of what I do.

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Phillip Viens

oe : Is there a trend that you’ve noticed in the making of charcuterie? Where and how it’s served?


PV : I think that we’ve seen a large increase in the serving of charcuteries in the past decade. Like many food trends right now, it seems to be restaurants that are driving the change. Many make their own, or make a bit and buy what they need.


Charcuterie lends itself well to the new style of shared dining which has really taken off. It’s a natural fit. It’s also nice to see that people are really embracing it. There are a lot of home charcuterie-making enthusiasts out there nowadays. Some creating new stuff, and some helping to uphold beautiful traditions that span many generations.


oe : What is the BEST charcuterie for you?


PV : It’s really hard to argue with the greats: Culatello di Zibello, and Jamon Iberico de Bellota. These aren’t exactly everyday items for me though.


oe : Your favourite cut/style of charcuterie?


PV : The one charcuterie that I always get and probably eat the most of is Mortadella.


oe : What is the funkiest charcuterie you ever had? That you’ve made?


PV : Aaron from Le Diplomate brought me an interesting dry sausage from Portugal when he vacationed there last year with his family. ‘Morcela de Carne’. The best way I can describe it is a chorizo that’s made with un-bled meat. Literally the meat is still engorged with blood (not unlike the blood line in tuna). So it’s almost black. It is delicious beyond words. Raw, I find the texture a little challenging, but cooked it’s basically the best chorizo ever. Similar flavour profile, but with more complexity.


I’ve started making Morcela de Carne. Occasionally I receive carcasses that have some blood and staining in the muscles by the neck, where they bleed them. I used to just throw it out, thinking that it was no longer good for anything. I should have known better. I’m not sure if this is how they do it in Portugal, but it definitely works.


oe : What is the future of charcuterie?


PV : I think we’re going to see production spread as it gains in popularity. More ‘local’ shops, as well as the spread of popularity among regions. When you look at the past 30 or so years in North America, taking cured ham as an example, you really see the diversity of products growing. It used to be that Parma ham was it. Now you have Parma, San Daniele, Bayonne, Serrano, Iberico, even Toscano, Westphalia, and Jinhua are available, if less known. I think this is going to continue to spread, as people become more educated about regional products, and globalization continues to open doors for import/export opportunities. Even though I obviously hope people embrace their local producers.


I don’t think you can talk about the future of meat products without mentioning cultured meat. As in the type that is grown in a lab. Love or hate it I think it is a reality that we will see this type of product on the shelves in the next 5 years. Charcuterie products being a natural fit, since they are already processed. Think jerky, pepperettes. 100% synthetic!

You can check out Phillip’s store Aliments Viens at 4556 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, QC H2T 1R3. He does NOT sell synthetic charcuterie.


http://www.alimentsviens.ca

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