Iam a small man, but deep inside me lives the heart of a fatso. I love eating. I plan my days around food. I make decisions about what to eat with the amount of thought regular people put into how many kids they want. One of my favourite restaurants in LA, Animal, has a menu filled with delicious words that appeal to fatsos, like quail fry, pork belly, poutine, and foie gras. There’s even a dessert made with bacon. The first time I talked about food with Animal’s chefs and owners, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, sometimes known as the “Food Dudes”, I could tell that deep inside they had inner fatsos, just like me. In fact, thanks to their recommendations, on a recent trip to Tokyo I ate chicken knees, which were weird but undeniably delicious.
When I got back to LA, I had to thank the Food Dudes. But I also wanted to know more about exactly how chefs are able to take something that seems strange or disgusting, like eyeball or neck or heart, and turn it into something tasty and memorable. One of Animal’s most popular dishes, a pig’s ear appetiser with chilli, lime, and a fried egg, seems to epitomise this idea. So I asked Jon and Vinny if they’d show me how they make it.
The first thing the guys did on the afternoon I visited the restaurant was introduce me to a huge box of pig’s ears. They’re shipped in from a farm whose name I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure the farm was supposed to be dope and treat animals properly and shit. Apparently, the pigs have tennis courts and a lake where they can get on pig Jet Skis and just wile out. OK, that last part isn’t true, but the animals are treated well.
Jon and Vinny work with farmers they like to get what are known in the food industry as “off cuts” of meat – things like lamb necks and chicken livers – mostly because they’re typically less expensive than more familiar cuts like shanks and breasts. “We’ve actually got some veal testicles we’re playing with right now,” Jon says. I wasn’t ready to jump in and play with veal balls quite yet, so we focussed instead on the pig’s ears.
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