4/17/2013 02:06:00 PM

A Chat With Dai Due Chef Jesse Griffiths

Photo by Jody Horton
Soft-spoken but fiercely opinionated Jesse Griffiths has a strong reputation for his commitment to local food. You’ve probably seen the Dai Due stand at the farmers’ market that he runs with his wife, bought steaks from their butcher shop, or attended one of their supper clubs, where every ingredient, down to the last detail, is local. Griffiths also runs a hunting school, including classes specifically for women. And most recently he is a finalist for a James Beard Award for his book, Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish.

When we caught up with Griffiths he was cleaning artichokes in his kitchen and feeding us heavenly jelly-filled cookies made by Amity Bakery and Confituras as he told us about people’s reactions to hunting (“f&^k that pig”), his Eater Austin commenter nemesis and Dai Due’s brand new East Austin brick-and-mortar space and dinner menu.

The words “local” and “sustainable” are thrown around a lot today, but Dai Due has been really committed to those concepts. What do those words mean to you? 

We’ve been doing this for a while, and I can honestly say in seven years of business we’ve used 100 percent local produce. Cheese, dairy, fish, vegetables, fruit - everything is local. And not just whenever possible. We’re very strict about it. But it’s not like I drew a line 200 miles in circumference from Austin. It’s more like, What’s the produce that we should be using? What kind of cuisine would have been created if it weren’t for the advent of industrialized food?

It’s not just because it’s local. When it comes to produce, the closer it’s grown, the better it’s going to be. I’ve done classes at Whole Foods or Central Market where they’ll set me up with all this produce. I touch it and I’m like, “What the f*#k is this?” It’s so dead.

Local is also relationships, and it’s economics. Food is politics, and spending your money in the right places is huge. That’s one of the things I’m most proud about, that I can say I spend, for example, $350 a week on average on Dewberry Hills Farms. Multiply that by 52 and that’s some numbers.

I’m hearing from Austin chefs lately that they’re choosing quality over local. But you’re saying they’re one and the same. 

Is there a better peach out there than a Hill Country peach? Maybe. Maybe it’s an Eastern Slope Colorado white peach. But I’m going to find the best peach from around here, which is going to be a contender.

I see what they’re saying, and that’s fine. I happily eat at those restaurants all the time. If you said, “Let’s go to Uchi right now,” I’d be like, “Yes!” The fish was flown from most of the way around the world “fresh,” but I’m not going to say no. Dai Due just has a different focus.

Like these asparagus I just got in today. Can I show you?

[Gets the asparagus from the next room.] 

The farmer picks with such pride. Its incredible, 100 percent edible all the way down to the stem. I don’t know who said that about quality over local, but beat this.

You can’t. But you can only have it for two weeks out of the year, or maybe four. It’s not gonna fit most chefs’ needs.

So let’s talk about the farmers’ market. You’ve gotten a lot of recognition, but you’re still out at the farmers’ market every week. 

It’s important. Honestly I wasn’t there while I was working on the book, but you have to have that connection.

The best thing about it is that in the past five years supply and demand has functioned in a classic way. Five years ago, a rabbit? No f&#king way. Who was I going to get a rabbit from? Now if I need 30 rabbits I have a choice of three vendors.

This anonymous commenter on Eater Austin who is my nemesis said, “You can’t cook locally year-round.” And I was like, “Well, I’m glad somebody told me finally.” Because I’ve been doing it for so long.

What originally got you interested in hunting? 

Just the connection to food. I grew up in Texas, but my family didn’t do it. But over the years I was able to halfway teach myself and halfway learn from others about hunting. Now I have something to do year-round. If the weather’s bad for crappie you can probably go shoot a pig.

How’s the hunting school going? 

It’s the most fun. The dynamic is created by these eight strangers who are unified by this one task. And there’s weapons and blood. And not as much emotions as you’d think. Especially at the women’s class. You always think, “Oh, she’s not going to be able to shoot that deer.”


“Oh, she could totally shoot that deer!”

That reminds me of Michael Pollan’s description of his emotions after killing an animal in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Do people have that reaction? 

Yeah, afterward. A lot of times, the men have these reactions. I’ve had a guy shoot his first deer and then say he had to be alone for a minute with the deer. God, it still gets me. But a lot of times people are jubilant and exhilarated.

It seems to be different between deer and pigs too. With deer it’s like, “Oh, look at that beautiful creature.” But it’s like, “F*^k that pig.” I hate that. I love pigs. But the smelly hairy ones don’t get the same treatment as the doe-eyed, majestic waifs of the forest.

Ha! On a related note, congratulations on the James Beard nomination for Afield! What’s that like? 

It’s shocking. I’m not trying to be demure here. I didn’t think we were going to get a nomination for our first book. I don’t know the right words. Totally flattering. I get to go to New York, and I’ve never been there before. I’ll probably lose to Nigel Slater, but that’s OK. Just a nomination for our first time out of the chute is pretty cool.

Do you have specific things you want to do on your first visit to New York?

I have two friends that I came up in the restaurant world with here in Austin that both moved to New York years ago, Gabe Thompson and Chris Lanier. So I’m going to go up there and hang out with them. We’re gonna get hammered.

So what’s next for you and Dai Due? 

We’re probably days if not minutes away from signing a lease on a brick and mortar in East Austin. We’ve been working on it for four years, and we’ve had the bottom fall out from under us so many times that it’s just comical now.

Will it be a restaurant? 

Definitely. We want to do retail as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Imagine all of our businesses combined. Dinners will be like our supper clubs. No choices, just come in and we feed you with what we have.

That’s funny, I was just talking to Todd Duplechan at Lenoir, and he said that was the original concept for his restaurant.

When Todd started I didn’t know if Austin was ready. And of course they’re quite ready down there at Lenoir. So it was like, Thanks for doing my research on the demographics.

There will be different menus each day and seafood on Fridays. We’ll have four courses, and the first course will be a vast array of things, almost like when you sit down at a Korean restaurant. Little bites of tons of stuff. Then there will be hypersimplistic foods, grilled or roasted fish and meats and vegetables. Light on flours and grains and things that make people feel not so good. We’ll include a little coffee and tea. We’ll be making our own herbal teas. And then lightly sweetened desserts in small portions. No Death by Chocolate bullshit. All for about $40.

We want to change the whole restaurant format for dinner. Where it’s not like, fire one snapper, fire one steak. Instead we’re we’re going to cook a whole pig. That’s dinner.

1 comment :