Early morning hours are often reserved for farmers and bakers, but before the doors are unlocked and eager customers approach the counters of Oak Bay Avenue’s The Whole Beast, owners Cory Pelan and Geoff Pinch are busy mixing and stuffing sausages and preparing pork to be dried and cured.
After joining forces over their combined love of the traditional European methods of preserving meat, Pelan and Pinch opened The Whole Beast in the summer of 2011.
“In hindsight I wonder to this day how our businesses would have turned out, or where we would be, if we had opened our shops separately,” said Pinch.
“One of us would have gone down,” Pelan said with a laugh.
Even though Pelan and Pinch had similar interests and were both coming up with plans of opening their own individual shops highlighting their cured and smoked meat products, it wasn’t until the two were introduced by a mutual friend that they decided to join forces.
“We both had the same kind of idea. It just made sense to combine and we doubled our product lines immediately,” said Pelan.
The pair – both chefs – came to their love of cured and smoked meats through different paths.
For Pinch, his interest in sausages and curing began when he was growing up on a farm, although he may not have known it at the time.
“Back at the farm we made lamb sausage and as a chef in kitchens, you used to get larger cuts of leg and we would try to use up the trim by making sausage,” he said.
It wasn’t until he was between restaurants, going to school to learn cabinetry, that Pinch really became immersed in the world of cured and smoked meats.
As a loyal customer of J N and Z Deli, located on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, he decided to ask the owners to take him on “bottom dollar” just so he could learn how the products are prepared and the business is run.
What resulted from his experience was a passion for Northern European cured and preserved sausage and meats, which now blends with Pelan’s interest in Southern European products.
“I started curing about five or six years ago in a professional way,” said Pelan. “I was playing around with it in kitchens I was working in because I wanted to include those items on the menus I was trying to create.”
What he found was a lack of quality Italian-style products on the market, and instead of settling for a lesser meat, he decided to make his own.
One of The Whole Beasts most popular products, is also one of the most time consuming to make.
The popular prosciutto di parma – which is made with pork sourced from Metchosin – takes at least a year before it is ready to be served to customers.
While the taste and quality of the product is one reason customers keep coming back, Pelan believes the public’s growing concern about health and food encourages people to buy locally made products.
“People are more and more concerned about what goes into their food,” he said. “When they come in here they are able to talk to the people who made it: us. Who, for the most part, knows the farmer who raised the pork, and that has become really high on people’s shopping lists.”
In addition to questions about how the sausages and meats are made, people are also starting to ask Pelan and Pinch how to make similar products.
With food appearing more often on TV, in magazines, movies and the media, Pelan sees a romance building around creating something with your own hands beyond a bowl of soup or a grilled steak.
“I’m sure a big part of the do-it-yourself movement is stemming from people’s distrust in commercial and factory-farmed food,” said Pelan. “I also think people realize artisan and homemade products taste better.”
While Pinch and Pelan recommend starting with something easy, they encourage those interested in the world of cured meats to do research, read books and even stop in at The Whole Beast and ask questions.