By Kate Hards
“There’s a guy here wearing a PETA shirt,” wrote my confused co-worker in a text message. Liz met me at the 35th Street East River ferry landing for a quick boat ride to Meatopia on Randall’s Island. We were about to attend a one-day food festival featuring meat-centric dishes prepared by chefs from around the world … and there were vegans about to board?
At the dock, I inspected said t-shirt. In this case, PETA didn’t stand for the animal activist group, but rather “People Eating Tasty Animals,” a theme that was evident throughout Meatopia. Hoards of hungry carnivores descended upon the park and lined up to taste small plates and bites of tasty, tasty animals. The event was organized into Meat-themed neighborhoods in a large grassy field on the island: The Deckle District, Offalwood, Beaktown, Embassy Row, Meatopia Heights, Carcass Hill, The Quarter and the Game Reserve each had tents serving unique dishes prepared with humanely and naturally-raised meats.
We were curious about what gear the out-of-town chefs had traveled with, so we spent the afternoon interviewing between bites. Most chefs who flew to New York for Meatopia packed their knives, and some even came ready with spices and other special ingredients. Adam Sappington of Portland Oregon’s The Country Cat brought his own Pacific Northwest onions. Called Walla Wallas, they’re sweeter than Vidalias and were necessary for the dressing he prepared for his turkey trio of confit wings, pope’s nose and turkey scrapple. Tim Byres of Smoke in Dallas, TX, brought a spice blend for his dry-rubbed butcher’s steak, some knives and pre-pickled mustard seeds for the dish’s mustard caviar — all of which was nearly lost when an NYC taxi almost pulled away before he could unload his cargo from the trunk. It would have been a sad steak without that caviar; his dish was one of my favorites from the event.
Other standout dishes included the charred and scruffed beef short ribs from Adam Perry Lang, Aaron Franklin’s tender beef brisket (as seen on the recent episode of No Reservations in Austin), The US Navy Seal’s bacon-wrapped venison with cream cheese and jalapenos and Philippe Massoud’s pulled aleppo and sumac rubbed lamb sandwich.
When some ominous storm clouds rolled in, the chefs didn’t blink an eye … they stoked their fires, kept the meats grilling, and made sure the attendees were satisfied even in the rain. Next year will be Meatopia’s 10th year and you should absolutely attend if you want to try tasty bites of meat from some top chefs.