Meet Your Meat: An Interview with Christopher Eley
Goose: The Market, Indianapolis
By Cameron Meyer & Leigh Bush
In 2008 Chris Eley opened Goose: The Market in a historic neighborhood north of downtown Indianapolis. Since then, the market has been written up numerous times and was even featured in Primal Cuts, a recently released and much celebrated bible of meat. We decided to head over to the market to see if Chris could answer a few questions about food, animals, his business and the future.
CM: What is your first significant food memory? What’s the first thing that really sticks in your mind, where you acknowledge food as something you enjoy?
Actually I would say I have three, and they are all because of my grandmother. It’s funny because I’m not a sweets person now, but she made Buckeyes, which are like a ball of peanut butter that’s been covered with chocolate. She made them every year, so it became a tradition to make Buckeyes with her. I don’t know if you’ve ever had them, but you’re just meant to snack on them or whatever. But, I would eat them in a bowl with milk, these big balls of chocolate, filled with peanut butter.
LB: I could probably only eat two of those.
Yea, I know… I’d put like four or five of them in a bowl with milk. That was definitely one of my food memories. Another was pumpkin pie, actually, two pumpkin pies. These are just things that I looked forward too, traditions, you know? It was comforting to know that she was going to make these things every year.
CM: When did you come to appreciate food? For example, when did you start to acknowledge ingredients, or want to go to certain restaurants?
It’s kind of funny because I went through a number of years where I was in love with the idea of working in a restaurant, but not necessarily with the food. I started working in a restaurant in high school and I could really enjoy being around these guys. I mean, I was really young in comparison, and these guys were heavy drinkers, ex-cons. I got to be part of this bad boy image of line cooks, but it was this super-close crew, like a family. It was the first thing I really identified with. I went for a number of years just enjoying the working environment, working nights, hanging out with my co-workers. I was good at cooking, but I was more in love with everything else that kind of came with it.
CM: So like the whole atmosphere?
Yea, the whole atmosphere of being around food, the kitchen, the speed and activity. You could work 12 hours and it could go by like it was ten minutes. You’re beat but its fun, you know? It’s better than sitting at a desk… I’d rather work in a kitchen for 15 hours than sit at a desk for 8 hours.
LB: It’s a lifestyle choice as much as anything, haha…
CM: I’m assuming you were about 16 when you started working in restaurants?
I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t even supposed to be working in the restaurant, because you had to be 16 to use most of the equipment and I was only 14 or 15. The thing is, I didn’t play many sports or anything like that and my family didn’t have a bunch of money. If I ever wanted to do anything, have a car or anything at all, I had to pay for it myself. You know how people take summers off to go travel? I would travel by going to work somewhere; I’d work in the Virgin Islands
CM: Did you cook at home before working in restaurants?
Nope, not at all.
CM: What was your first restaurant job?
It was at Sahm’s restaurant in Fishers, Indiana. It was definitely a family owned type of place, they’ve been around for twenty something years. The original Sahm’s was actually a converted gas station, they turned the space into a restaurant. Anyways, like I was saying earlier, I didn’t really start appreciating the food aspect of working in restaurant right away. It wasn’t until I started working for a gentleman here that I opened my eyes, and I had done a lot of stuff before I moved back here. I lived on the east coast, went to culinary school… I made it all the way through culinary school, worked at all these restaurants, lived in the Virgin Islands cooking in restaurants down there. Even with all of that, I didn’t feel like I really appreciated food until I came back to Indianapolis. This guy was really disciplined with his food pairings, buying food properly, proper handling… really appreciating it for what it is, as opposed to coming in, cooking a bunch of crap, getting drunk and going home. So it was much later than I would have thought, I mean I’ve cooked in restaurants for about 16 years, but it wasn’t until halfway through that that I really appreciated food.
CM: What’s the craziest cooking job you’ve had?
There’s always something, y’know? I’ve had an owner throw a plate of food at my head, it hit a concrete wall. It’s all the crazy stuff that you see as a line-cook. Before I started college again, I was cooking in random restaurants and bars, working with all these crazy ass people. I mean, it was fun.
And then there is this whole other aspect of the industry, where you are sometimes cooking for really important people. This one time, I cooked for some guys from the Middle East, probably some high up government officials or something, I had no idea really. I just remember that they had security everywhere, people in the kitchen, watching us cook the whole time. I thought it was interesting that I cooked for people like that, those jobs really gave you these experiences that showed how food can transcend cultural boundaries. It’s one thing that we all have in common, an appreciation for good food.
CM: Indeed. Why did you leave Chicago to move back to Indianapolis?
To open a business, primarily. I figured if I was going to do this, I needed to do it in a place that I wanted to be for a long period of time. Chicago wasn’t the right place, partially because so many businesses are always opening and closing. Everybody’s always trying to one-up the next person, always trying to do something new. It’s not really the type of place where I thought that I could open a business and become established. I mean, there are places that have been around for a long time, but really, at the same time, it’s really transitional. Like I said, things are always changing and people always want something new. Not to mention, space is extremely expensive there and it’s extremely difficult to make things happen unless you have deep roots in the local government. For instance, yesterday at our zoning hearing, I knew a lot of people, and that definitely didn’t hurt. It’s harder to make those connections in a big city. Also, I wasn’t going to try to open a business in a city that I’d never lived or worked in, you can’t expect to do that. My strong connections were here, Chicago and Providence, RI- but in the end, Indianapolis really made the most sense in the long term.
CM: I was going to ask if you had any reservations about moving back to Indianapolis, but it sounds like you moved away from Chicago precisely because you had reservations about that city.
Yea, of course every time you do something, you doubt that it is going to work out. If you don’t doubt it, then you have problems, you aren’t thinking things all the way through. I think it’s always important to accept the fact that people may not like it, may not support it; they may hate what you do. Of course, you have to believe in yourself, but at the same time, if it isn’t working and you’re losing your ass, is it really worth five years of your life? The upside is that if you do succeed, you can look back on how you did it and then it’s much more likely that you can repeat those successes in the future. One thing I’ve always known is that I could close at any time. I take on debt like it’s a risk, but I would never allow myself to get into extreme amounts of debt. It’s not gonna happen. You have to accept the fact that the business isn’t going to make it and you have to close it. You can’t be so attached mentally, or in your heart, that it takes you to your grave.
CM: I imagine that closing a business is difficult, like taking your dog out to a field and shooting it.
See, it is, it definitely is. You can’t help to not have those feelings, but if your dog only has one leg and half a kidney, you gotta put it out of its misery. It takes a lot for someone to do that, but too many business owners carry on for way too long, losing a lot very, very quickly. Especially when you are working with food… food is not profitable.
CM: Can you describe how ‘Goose’ became a reality?
It never is going to happen the way you think it’s going to happen. The biggest hurdle is getting the funding, once you have that, you can really do anything. Up until that point though, you are just pitching this story to people. I mean, I wrote 3 or 4 business plans and only took one of those to the bank. The bank turned down that one, so I had to rewrite it and submit it again. You learn a lot just from that process, right? If you can’t get through writing your business plans, then it’s not going to happen. Those first three, getting through them, things started not making sense. I started to realize that certain things just weren’t going to work, so I changed them.
When I first moved back to Indianapolis, I actually had intentions of opening a restaurant, primarily a wood-burning type of place. We would have served a lot of small to medium sized plates… shared plates. I was thinking Mediterranean influenced, southern Italian, some French, some Spanish. The market evolved from that initial concept, and that’s mainly because I’m adamant about not opening a restaurant, and always have been, but for some reason I wanted to do exactly that when I first came back here. I feel like I’m smarter than that, I mean… the odds are totally stacked against you. Like I said, the banks don’t want to loan you money, I didn’t want to take on partners and I’ve never been particularly interested in having financial investors, primarily due to the fact they’re really just in it for the profit. It’s difficult to stay true your concept and your beliefs in food if you’re just breaking even. I guess all I really wanted to answer to was the bank, because once they give you money, as long as you make your payments, they don’t really care what you do. I mean, I’ve done 8 or 9 restaurant openings and I’ve seen a lot of people lose a lot of money; lose a lot of stuff… you know? Marriages…
LB: I’ve seen marriages, more than one lost, through restaurant openings.
Yea, especially when families open restaurants together. You see families break up, people never talking to each other again. You know? So anyways, I finally came to my senses, decided to evolve this concept, having a primary focus on butchering, using whole animal and the charcuterie. For us, it was about doing business in way so that we were not hurting anybody, not hurting the environment, not hurting any animals… umm, not entirely I guess.
I guess we do, but it’s as minimal as possible.
CM: So the transition from idea to brick & mortar storefront wasn’t really a smooth process?
Because we purchased this building personally, it made certain things a lot more difficult. We had a loan for the business and a loan for the property going at the same time. Then, the housing market crashed and we lost funding for the building. There was a good two month period right after that where we weren’t sure if we were going to get this building. Basically, until you get the doors open, you really don’t think that it’s actually going to happen. You just have to understand that the transition is never smooth, it’s rough! You know, that whole process, even the first six months is non-stop chaos. You aren’t sleeping. You’re trying to solve the big problems first, working your way down. It might take a year before you even get a chance to reflect on the business.
CM: Would you say that the current incarnation of the market is the same as your initial ideas of the place?
No, and I don’t think it should be. If it was the same now as it was 3 years ago, I probably wouldn’t be in business still. You constantly have to be improving, constantly have to be finding better ways of doing things. For instance, I’ve had plenty of ideas for this back room down here. We initially hadn’t even planned on using, but I ended up taking a fairly big risk by stocking all the beer and wine. Then, about this time two years ago, I was in Italy for Terra Madre, visiting a lot of enotecas and hanging out. I liked the feel of them, how casual they were, and I thought that it would fit well with our business. We talked about other ideas, like selling small-wares or kitchen supplies, but really, my heart is in service, and food… I didn’t just want to sell a bunch of crap. So this past summer we built the enoteca counter, it’s really casual and it really fits the concept of what the market is.
CM: Could you tell me about some of the products that you sell here that fall outside of the booze and meat categories? I’ve had your sandwiches, which are great, and last time I was in, I had that pumpkin spice gelato… it was killer.
Oh yea, yea that’s good stuff. So a lot of those things, like the sandwiches or the gelato, were added to create foot traffic. They’re very low commitment purchases, a few dollars here, a few dollars there.
CM: How does “Goose: The Market” differ from other establishments in Indiana, or elsewhere for that matter?
The biggest difference is our philosophy on purchasing and our beliefs on how the animals should be raised. As far as comparing us to other retail food markets, for us it was about taking it back to what a market used to be, an old-world style of market. They were really good at certain things, they knew their strengths. That’s why our primary focuses are on meat, charcuterie and cheese, those are our strengths. For us it was important to have a neighborhood feel, like a corner store. That’s the main reason we took this spot, because it was on the corner. Back in the day, that’s primarily where you would have found butcher shops or markets.
CM: Yea, it reminds me of all the Italian markets and delis that my great-grandfather used to take me, on The Hill in St. Louis. It has that old-school feel.
Right, yea definitely. That’s why I like to explain it as a market and a butcher shop. At its heart that’s what it is, it’s what we do. It’s very straightforward and not pretentious. I was very adamant about it not being a gourmet food mart, a gourmet store… what would you call it?
LB: Artisanal product vendor?
You go in and see all this shit that you would never use and never buy, and yea, it’s cool but whatever. It’s not something that you would want to eat on a regular basis.
CM: You mentioned not wanting to hurt the environment or the animals, could you explain how you source your ingredients and products?
It’s mainly about relationships and quality products. You know, I want to say it’s all about buying locally, but it’s not.
CM: Yea, that’s something that we are hearing from more and more people these days.
Just because you are buying locally doesn’t necessarily mean that you are buying a quality product. We work directly with farmers, and I’m not afraid to work with a farm from Kentucky, Illinois or Michigan just because they aren’t local. There are plenty of shitty local farms in Indiana. I mean, we’re a huge commodity state for pork, and obviously corn. So, just because something is grown in Indiana doesn’t mean that it’s great. Ultimately, we’re really more concerned with how the animal has been raised, what it’s been fed… I’m a huge proponent of pasture raised animals. Organic isn’t as big of a deal to me as certified humane. I like stress free animals, and it’s honestly not because I’m a “tree-hugger” per se, but because I think that humanely raised animals are a better tasting product. We buy from the people we do because they have practices we believe in, they have a good product, that’s what it really comes down to.
CM: Why the big focus on meat?
Because of me, obviously, I love meat. I like to eat meat, I like the versatility of it and I like all of the things that it brings to the table. Also, nutritionally, I don’t think that there is a good substitute for meat. I think that a balanced diet is the healthiest option, so not meat heavy but not completely devoid of meat either. And really, it’s a butcher shop, it’s a market. The core concept, from the start, is centered on meat.
CM: What are your current top 5 selling meats?
Of course, people are always going to get boneless skinless chicken breasts, as much as I’m not into those things. They’re simple, they’re not very intimidating, so we go through a lot of those. We go through a lot of bacon, it’s the usually kinds of things, you know? It’s what you would expect, ground beef, but that is as far as quantity. If we’re talking dollars, then its steaks… we also sell a ton of cured meats, salamis and hams…
CM: You guys make those in house, right?
Some of them we do, yea. Right now we probably produce about 30% and bring in about 70%. When we open up our new production facility we’ll probably produce about 70% of the charcuterie that we sell, in addition to distributing it regionally.
CM: What’s your favorite meat?
In general, it’s Pork. I like the versatility of pork, I enjoy cooking it, I like the flavor of pork. Really any cut, that’s why I like it, you can use any part. Honestly though, right now, my favorite cut is probably the skirt steak. It’s something I really look forward to eating.
CM: Isn’t skirt steak really similar to flank or hanger?
Similar, but it has a little more marbling than a flank will. The hanger and skirt are part of the diaphragm, or the interior of the ribcage, while the flank is on the exterior, just below the belly.
CM: I just know that I use one of those three cuts when making tacos.
Yea, they’re all really good cuts for tacos, flank being leanest.
CM: So would you say that skirt steak is your favorite product in the store?
Ehhhh, that’s a tough call.
CM: Well, if you could only take home one thing tonight, what would it be?
I live upstairs. I can come down and get whatever I want whenever I want to! Seriously though, I like it all, I don’t really have a good answer for that. It’s kind of one of those things where I like the balance. I don’t like to eat the same thing every day, I don’t like to get tired of something. That’s why I’m kind of bad at eating leftovers. I mean, I wouldn’t even eat skirt steak two days in a row if I had it.
CM: Yea, I’m still trying to kill my leftovers from Thanksgiving. Anyways, speaking of meat, what do you think about vegetarians? Earlier, you insinuated that you don’t think they get a balanced diet.
It’s not like a personally have a problem with them. I mean, it’s more meat for me!
CM: I was kind of expecting more of a Bourdain style rant.
Well, I like converting them from vegetarians to meat eaters. I see it as more of a challenge: get them to eat meat. We’ve converted a number of workers over at the salon.
CM: Maybe I should try to convert my girlfriend.
LB: What I’m wondering is, how did you become interested in the humane aspect of raising and killing animals, and what in particular do you look for in terms of their treatment? Because, I know you said you wanted them certified humane; do you believe in that specific process?
I believe in that process for farmers that I don’t know really well, but I also want the products that we make and sell to be certified, I want the customers to know that the animals were humanely raised. So I believe in certification when evaluating new places, but even if they have certification I would still take it one step further to visit, see for myself, see how they slaughter, and see how then animals are raised; I want to see the whole process.
What really got me behind this humane treatment of animals was seeing a real kill floor, and not like a small scale one, I’m talking commodity; you see what a kill house is like and what they go through. And I know you can see videos of one of these operations, but until you see it in person and you see how stressful it is for the animals, it’s just not the same. So that’s one thing, and then if you see the conditions that animals live in up until that point, I mean you realize that there’s something wrong with this. There’s something that’s just not right. Not only would you not want an animal through it, but then do you really want to eat something that has been in these types of environments? I mean, they’re packed in there, you know?
CM: Yea, definitely.
For instance, take CAFOs (editors note: CAFO stands for concentrated animal feeding operation): the animals are indoors, they’re fed heavily. There’s just a lot of things that just don’t make a lot of sense, it obviously doesn’t seem natural or to make sense naturally. You start to wonder, “What kind of adverse effects does it have on the product itself and the way it tastes, and the texture of it?” I don’t know, people argue it from both sides. One argument is that pigs can only get trichinosis if they’re in fields, eating whatever, but that’s not entirely true- yes they can forage, but trichonosis is going to come from foraging on dead animals, and it’s not like they’re not fed other animals or animal by-products in a CAFO.
So what it really comes down to is, if someone tells you they can’t show you their facility or show you the way their animals are raised or show you where they’re slaughtering, well then, that’s probably because they’re trying to hide something. Right? It’s important for me to go and visit these farms, to see for myself. I mean, the certification is nice but, like, organic’s the same way. There are tons of products that are certified organic, but just because it’s certified organic doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good product.
CM: Yeah, I mean you’ve got industrial organic.
Right. People equate organic with quality and it’s not necessarily true.
CM: At the this local farmer’s market that I attend, only a small percentage of the vendors are certified organic. Some vendors have said that they won’t go through the certification process because it’s expensive and we had also heard complaints that the certification inspectors don’t even show up to do the inspections. So they might pay for the certification and get the seal, but no one ever shows up to check if the farm is actually organic. There’s a bit of distrust there in the legitimacy of the system.
And there’s a lot of paperwork involved, too. There’s constant, constant paperwork and people don’t grow vegetables to sit in an office all day, doing paperwork.
LB: How did you come to see those facilities that you know you don’t want to participate in?
A lot of times you, when they don’t let you in then that’s a huge red flag. And then, the other ones, I’ve gone to a couple of them for different reasons. Sometimes you can just get in on a slaughtering basis, and at one place, I knew somebody that worked there and that’s how I got in. You know the smaller ones are not as concerned, but the bigger ones, they won’t let anybody in, or it is exceedingly difficult to do so. You can go and see some of the CAFOS and stuff like that, but even at some of those, they won’t let you in.
You know, if they’re protected by IBP or a big name like that, typically they won’t let you in, claiming it’s for trade secrets or whatever, but my belief is that that’s not really the case. I mean you can see it on movies such as Food Inc. or some of those videos where somebody has sneaked in a hidden camera. Basically, they’re not easy to get into, and you know they don’t want you in there- that’s usually a pretty good red flag.
LB: Right, but you’ve seen some that you know you wouldn’t want your animals that you’re processing to go through those particular places…
CM: I remember Joel Salatin said that he thought that all processing facilities should have glass walls so you could see what’s actually going on in there and that that would enforce accountability of these operations.
Right. Yeah, like Greg’s, you can go, I mean he slaughters everyday and you can go in at anytime. If you buy from him then you can go in anytime.
Greg Gunthorp. The guy who raises our chickens and ducks.
CM: Oh yes, I’ve had one of their chickens before.
And I mean he slaughters on his farm and he’s very open about his operation, he’ll let anybody come take a look. But you have to be careful because the USDA is in there, you have to stay out of their way.
You have to, you know, wear a smock. So I guess I should say that you can’t just walk right in, but if you’re buying from him or have some sort of relation with him he’ll let you in.
CM: So you source some of your stuff from Gunthorp?
We’re not strictly Gunthorp on our poultry and pork, but about 90% of what we buy is from Greg.
CM: What about Fischer Farms?
We use him for beef and he doesn’t have his own slaughter facility but they obviously don’t go to a feed lot or CAFO. They go to this local slaughter facility, a smaller one, it’s actually the same one that most people in the southern part of the state use, I can’t think of the name of it now, but it’s a small town processing facility. It’s not a large industrial slaughterhouse…but they’re not certified humane.
LB: It’s state inspected…
Yeah, it’s state inspected. Their practices are pretty good, it’s a small family owned business and they’re held accountable. Dave (Fischer Farms), you know, he’s hands on with them and he goes in and shows them how he wants stuff done all the time.
LB: One last question!
CM: Very last one.
LB: I just wanted to know a little bit about waste. I know that we talked before about how you really like to do head to tail butchering. One, I wonder how you go about that, and two, I was wondering what you do with the other types of waste that you come across here, if you compost or recycle, things like that.
We compost and recycle. We have compost bins out on the south side of the building and then we dump then in our garden, which is also on the side of the building, everything goes in there. If we have more compost than we can handle, then we hook up with Big City Farms with some of it, but honestly, now that we have two barrels, or two composters, we’re able to handle it. One’s always cooking and then the other one we’re always filling. We empty one and then just give the other one 60 days to cook. It takes about 90 days in the wintertime and about 60 days in the summertime.
CM: All of your compost goes on your garden?
Yea, it goes on our garden out on the south side of the building, which we’re going to expand next year.
CM: So you’re growing food that you’re going to sell or use in the market?
We do, we use it on sandwiches. We don’t usually sell it because we don’t produce enough of it. We use raised beds; right now we probably have between six and nine raised beds, and then next year we’re basically taking that whole other side of the building and we’re going to build more raised beds over there. It’s basically going to take up the whole south side of the building. But, like I said, we mainly use the produce for in house production, we incorporated it into sausages or terrines or other stuff we’re doing. Sometimes the soups or the salads, but it’s rarely enough to sell just on the produce shelf.
CM: What do you do with the offal, or the bones of the animals?
We use the bones to make stock and we also sell them frozen, but the frozen bones only do well in the winter time. The offal, we use in terrines which takes all the liver and heart. We use the tongues; we do tongue and cheek terrine, which is popular. We also braise some tongues and put them on the sandwiches. We do a crispy pig’s ear terrine. With the skin, we blanch it and grind it to use in the sausages; it adds a really nice texture. We obviously smoke and braise the the shanks. Tails, we smoke and sell in the case.
A lot of times we’ll keep the offal and let it accumulate. We get one pig a week so we’ll hang on to the stuff… Like the cheeks, for example, we may accumulate over a month and then pull them out of the freezer and do something with all of them. So we do that a lot of the time. But on a regular basis, the heart and the liver and stuff like that, it generally goes into patés and terrines and sausage.
CM: So it really is like the entire animal.
LB: Has that taken some time to figure out, how to coordinate that?
It will change. It changes. That’s what takes time to figure out is what to do with it each season. For instance, we make this sausage called kitchen sink sausage that sells really well in the summertime and it’s got everything, I mean it’s got literally everything. I’m talking poached skin and liver and heart and shoulder and belly and some cured/smoked bacon ends, but not fully cooked. It has all, I don’t know, I can’t even think of everything. It has a lot of different pork cuts in it and it sells like crazy in the summertime and it’s really good sausage – a little bit of minerality, but not too strong on the offal. I mean, it’s just spiced real well and people love it, eat it up. But then, you know, people aren’t grilling out as much in the wintertime so then you have to do something different.
CM: But the bones are big in the winter for stock reasons?
More so. But we use them year round for our own stock, we do about 30 to 40 gallons of stock a week.
CM: Where do you do that?
All upstairs. We have an induction burner that we do them in, and then we have also have a smoker out back that we do them in.
CM: The production of this facility is pretty incredible, like the amount of stuff that you produce here.
Yeah. It’s tight, I mean we’ve definitely outgrown it as far as production. Once we build the new place everything will be made over there and maybe just finishing sauces for sandwiches will happen here. We’ll probably even make the soups over there. We’ll move pretty much all the production over there, which will be nice for this place, it’ll help this place operate more efficiently and more smoothly and we’ll still produce all our own product. So there’s huge advantages to that.
But right now, with the induction burner, you can do just about anything. You can do soup, we do a lot of things sous vide, we braise a lot of stuff for sandwiches. Like, in the summertime, we won’t be able to sell many lamb shanks so we’ll accumulate them over the summer, then we’ll take them down and we’ll braise them, with the intent of putting them in a sandwich. You can also do shank terrines. So it’s just finding outlets for each thing as the season changes.
CM: Yea, of course.
You know it’s kind of funny, because for this other facility, part of the city’s concerns were like, waste, odor and smoke, because we’re so close to residences. That’s why I had a hard time getting the zoning passed. And so one of their bigs concerns is, “Well, what do you do with all of your animal byproduct?” And, you know, I kept saying, “Well, there is no animal byproduct.” And they’re like, “No, what do you do with everything you don’t use?” I said, “We use everything.” And they just couldn’t understand the fact that we use everything. The only time anything goes in the trash, is with the bones, after they’re been cooked, like we’ve taken everything out of that bone.
CM: Because cooked bone’s not going to rot.
Right. Exactly. So they’re like, “What do you mean you’re not going to have animal waste rotting in your dumpster?” Because they’re worried about the smell of the dumpster. You know, they were getting frustrated with me because they didn’t believe me. I’m like, “We literally take every part, every piece of the animal that comes in fresh will go as a refrigerated item that we will sell.
CM: What about ye olde brain? How do you do that?
CE: You know the one thing about the brain is that, I mean it’s small- pig brains are extremely small, beef brains are a little bit larger, lamb brains are extremely small. To get them out, we have to use hand saws because we don’t have a band saw here. So in this place we do all hand saws. Because of that, the brain is the one thing that we only take it if we know we’re going to use it for something specific, because it takes a lot of work to split the skull, especially on a pig, especially without a band saw. We do do use the heads for head cheese, so the heads do get cooked or they go in the stock, but we don’t always split it and take the brain out, mainly because we only use it for certain things. When we use it then we’ll take it out.
LB: I had goat brains, and they were quite good with a fried egg.
Yeah. Last time we did it we did, like, deviled eggs with the yolks with poached brain . It was really good.
CM: What is your take on the current surge in food appreciation/culture in the United States?
I like it! It’s only helping what we do here and allowing more people to do more interesting things in the kitchen, which, of course, makes my life more enjoyable. I definitely like it and I hope it stays, and it has for a number of years. Honestly, I feel like it took off with the Food Network. It’s always been out there, but until it went mainstream media, it wasn’t necessarily the topic of conversation; you didn’t see it as much. Except in the coastal states, The US didn’t really have the appreciation of food that you would see elsewhere in the world. These days though…
I don’t really think of Kansas City as a food city, except for barbeque, I guess. But I was just there last week working on some equipment that we are going to have in our new facility, and I went out to a couple of restaurants. One that I was really impressed with was Michael Smith’s restaurant, Extra Virgin. I went there on a Monday night and I was sitting at the bar, there were maybe only 4 or 5 other people in the place. This place has write-ups for great food, but it was a Monday, you know? I was sitting there and this couple came in and sat next to me at the bar, and they obviously knew the bartender, and they just started talking about how the guy was getting ready to open a restaurant. But, the thing is, their conversation sounded like it could have happened in NYC or San Francisco, especially their knowledge of food and the way they were talking their service. Anyways, Michael’s restaurant is phenomenal, the food was great, the service was great, and it wasn’t pretentious. The thing is, I was most impressed by the conversation that the couple was having with the bartender.
CM: Would “Goose” be as successful without all of these self-proclaimed gourmands running around?
Not at all. When people come in here, they are pulling recipes out of the New York Times or whatever. They’re buying stuff that they aren’t familiar with, and they are coming here because we can tell them how to prepare it. We take the time and my staff has the knowledge to help our customers out. It helps that we are in a great neighborhood, but really, we pull people from all over the city. That wouldn’t be possible without all of the media attention that we get, which of course, is due to the increased interest in food.
CM: Yea, I found this place on Yelp actually.
Yelp’s been good for us, its right up our alley.
CM: What are your plans for the future? Where will “Goose” be 5, 10 years from now?
This market will just get more and more specific rather than trying to expand into more things. Obviously, opening the new production facility is a big deal; it’s going to allow us to expand our availability. We’ll be making more of our own smoked and cured meats. The thing is, we aren’t looking to totally reinvent “The Goose,” it’s really just about getting better at what we do. Also,if I do open other businesses, I don’t see myself opening 5 more identical markets, but rather, opening 5 different places, each having their own specialty, like a fish market or something, in a different neighborhood.
CM: Do you enjoy when other people cook for you or do you prefer to be the one wielding the flame?
You know, as long as its good food, I don’t really care. If somebody is willing to do the work, I enjoy eating other people’s food. I like going into a restaurant, and you don’t even have to order, you know? If you know the chef or whatever, just let them make you what they want to make, they are going to be putting their best foot forward. Even at Thanksgiving, it’s not like I’m critical of the food. My family cooks because they know that if I’m in the kitchen, I’ll go over the top, I’ll be in there all day. When someone else cooks, I get to just enjoy the day, spend time with my family and friends. If you get too into it, if you can’t enjoy sitting down to have a meal with someone, then you are missing the point of food.
CM: That’s good advice, for real.
LB: Seriously, this guy over here…
When you are planning your menu, just do everything you can ahead of time, that way you just have to throw it in the oven to heat it up. People come over to see you, to talk to you, not to see you freak out in the kitchen.
CM: What is your favorite restaurant?
Anywhere? I have different restaurants that I like for different reasons.
CM: Well, my favorite pho place is in Oklahoma City, Pho Lien Hoa, but my favorite hot dogs are in Tucson, Arizona.
Alright, I see. Some places just pop into my head when I think about certain foods. For sandwiches I like Bari in Chicago. For barbeque, I like this place here in town, Hank’s Brisket. I think he does better brisket than some I’ve had in Texas. He does phenomenal brisket, and he’s here in town, he has a little spot over on MLK. It’s nothing major, he doesn’t win a bunch of awards, but I like that. Some of my favorite places to eat in general are Paul Kahan’s restaurants in Chicago, so like Blackbird and Avec… I like his places because the food is very well executed. I mean, these are all places that I really want to go back to.
CM: Finally, if you had to pick a meal that defines you, what would it be?
That defines me?
CM: Maybe the last meal you would eat.
Biscuits and Gravy made from scratch… sausage gravy. That’s what I would want.
LB: Chris, thank you so much for talking with us and good luck with the new facility. We can’t wait to come see it!
Chris Eley’s new processing facility, the Smoking Goose, is slated to open March of 2011. At the new place Goose will be able to process more value-added meats to reach a broader audience. Chris also plans on setting up three programs for interested butchers, chefs, and the like. He hopes to have a stagier program, lasting from a week to two weeks, a much longer apprenticeship program, lasting from 18 to 24 months, and an academic-based semester-long internship program for which students can receive credit while learning about meat and meat processing.
Goose The Market is located at: 2503 Deleware St., Indianapolis.
Visit the website at www.goosethemarket.com