Longform

The Butcher, the Baker: A Pastry Chef Picks Up a Cleaver in Learning the True Meaning of Farm-to-Table

I will not chicken out. Okay, I might.

Before me on a plastic table is a chicken -- throat slashed, naked of feathers, still warm. The eyes are closed and since the neck has been cut to drain the blood, rendering my chicken lifeless, the neck is floppy and attached by only a few tendons. My job now is to put my hand around its head and pull.

I grasp the head and yank. Nothing happens. I readjust my grip, apologizing to dead Chicken Little for covering his entire face with my sweaty hand, and pull with all my might. The tendon releases and I am holding a chicken head. I loosen my grip and look at the little head balanced in the cup of my hand. I expect to feel sick, but instead I feel pride. I drop the head into the bucket and set about working through the rest of the butchering process.

I am at Davis Family Organic Farm in Queen Creek on a warm, sunny Saturday in April to butcher the chickens I have paid the farm to raise for me. This program is offered to people who don't have the room or knowledge to raise chickens themselves. I bought five of them.

You put a down payment of $15 per bird, then pay the balance (minus your deposit) after the butchering, based on the weight of each bird at the cost of $5 per pound. Not a bad deal for the freshest meat you can imagine. The one caveat is that you must participate in the slaughter of the animals before taking your meat home.

"I am a chef!" I scream in my mind as I stare at the dead chicken before me. This is part of what I do. Well, not really what I do as a pastry chef, but what I have always wanted to learn. Here is a chance to jump in, and I'm balking.