The highlight of last weekend’s Saratoga Wine & Food Festival was the demo by Zak Pelaccio, chef and owner of the recently opened and highly regarded Fish & Game in Hudson. Here is a very successful chef with a global empire (earlier restaurants now have multiple branches in Asia) yet he’s funny, casual and utterly non-stuck up. Listening to him is like hanging out with your buddy and exchanging cooking ideas.
In the first part of the demo, Zak broke down a pig and discussed how the parts could be used. I have to say, he spent a disproportionate amount of time on the head. This guy loves pig heads. He marveled at the “Waygu-like” jowl meat, chatted about the disposition of the ears and other parts, then lovingly peeled back the face and rolled it up for cooking with appropriate aromatics. The belly had already been dispatched to a nearby Green Egg smoker (a sponsor of the event) where it was cooking slowly over cherry wood.
For the second part of the demo, Zak was joined by his equally engaging wife Jori Emde, who makes all kinds of magic with the local flora found in and around Hudson. Eg. Strawberry mustard with anise hyssop, a wild herb. And fish sauce made with local trout, shad and herring which are salted then cured in a spent bourbon barrel from a local distillery. Zak spent some time discussing the miracles of corn juice which he made in a blender, then combined with fish sauce and spices and whole corn kernels to make a base for the pork belly. And then we ate… and the next few lines of my notes are mostly exclamation points.
Zak (who said this the first appearance they’ve made outside the restaurant since opening Fish & Game) devoted the rest of the afternoon to wandering the event and judging an amateur BBQ competition. I am eager to get down to Hudson and see what else this couple can do. Meanwhile, he gives us all new encouragement to experiment with ingredients because apparently almost anything is edible.