Artisan Producers, Modern Grange, Uncategorized

Whole Hog: Rian Rinn & the Long Haul

Rian Rinn stands near a backhoe staring at a large hole in the ground. Three men are in the hole while a fourth leans forward, urgently and rapidly talking into Rinn's ear. It's a plumbing thing. It's got to be done. It's going to be expensive. Rinn nods as the man continues his speedy explication of all the extra thousands of dollars it's going to cost to get this plumbing right. Rinn sighs, looks up from the hole, and greets the stranger waiting to talk to him. It's just another day in the butcher business.

Rinn and his partner Jenine Alexander are amid transforming an old tire shop in Roseland into a state-of-the-art butchery processing operation and retail shop. Plumbing woes just come with the territory as they scramble to get their Sonoma County Meat Company built and open for a planned March 5 launch date. 

And there are plenty of things that Rinn, 34, would rather discuss than plumbing. Like his upcoming Jan. 25 butchery demonstration for SHED, an evening that will find him comfortably above ground, sharing the night with Bar Tartine chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns in our upstairs Grange. 

Butchers are a jocular sort, and Rinn is no exception. In fact, he says that he was drawn to the profession in part because of the "gossipy" comfort regularly found in a butcher shop. Rinn chefed for a decade at such places as the Fifth Floor, Nopa, and even Spain's famed El Bulli before discovering what he really wanted to do.

"I worked in the kitchen, but I was always thinking, 'Man, I want to do what that guy's doing over there, that looks great,'" Rinn says with a laugh. "I've learned to cook the meat, now I want to learn how to cut the meat."

He explains, "I was always impressed with the precision and how little you can waste and how you can really change a piece of meat just by the way you cut it. You can either make something completely edible or something that gets bigger in your mouth the more you chew it. I was also interested in how you can use all the parts of the animal really quite easily and quite deliciously."

Leaving restaurant kitchens, Rinn went to Willowside Meats and worked there for several years, eventually becoming the head butcher. He tried to buy the place but the deal fell through. He went to Golden Gate Meats, a USDA-inspected facility, but found himself stymied there, too. It was time to go into business for himself. Which is how Rinn found himself on an unseasonably warm January day staring into a hole and learning a lot more than he might ever have wanted to about the expense of plumbing.

But back to jocularity. Rinn and Alexander have supported themselves in part by Rinn's ability to cut up a half a hog while talking nonstop about the process, which is exactly what he'll do for us on Jan. 25 before turning the resulting meat over to Balla and Burns to make it into a special meal.

"When I worked in restaurants, I never talked to anyone," Rinn says. "It's very quiet. And then I went to Willowside, and everyone was talking all the time, and there were a lot of personalities, and I really enjoyed that. That's where I learned to talk and chew gum at the same time."

And, he says, "The thing about classes is that it's butchery in slow motion. You've got lots of time to talk. Otherwise, I'd be like, 'OK, that took 10 minutes. I don't know what you folks are going to be up to for the next hour and a half, but I'm ready to go home!' And you can't have that. I like having a relationship with people."

With the success of such events as the Cochon 555 "epic porc feast" tour (staggering into Napa on March 2 for its sixth year), public butchery is enjoying a decided vogue. Rinn can understand why.

"It's entertainment. It's like going to the movies or going mountain climbing," he says. "Because of the advent of epicurean culture, people are really into knowing where their food comes from, interested in eating the whole animals and knowing all the parts. And for me, it's part of educating people to eat the whole animal. It's a focused education. You get a glass of wine and watch a guy doing something that you're never going to see unless you pay to see it."

Of course, you could always join the butcher at his day job.

"Otherwise," he laughs, "you're going to have to be in a hermetically sealed room that's 40 degrees at 5 o'clock in the morning." 

For a young man, Rinn is blessed with a mature vision. 

"Meat is very fashionable right now," he says. "And that's great, I'll take advantage of that, but I'm in it for the long haul. When people remember that butchers aren't the only thing and that chefs are once again the new greatest thing, or the cheesemaker or the candlestick maker – who  knows – I'll still be here cutting meat.

"I enjoy it, and I appreciate the opportunity to create relationships with people because I tend to have a good time, but I think that's the main reason."

He smiles. "I like the opportunity to share what I know."

And we can all agree it's better than dealing with the plumbing.

Join Rian Rinn and Bart Tartine co-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns for a butchery demonstration and meal on Sunday, Jan. 25, from 5pm to 10pm, upstairs in our Grange. $110-$130. Advance tickets requested.

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