The season of scarves, red wine, and hearty, rich fare is upon us and while some may lament the cold weather, we couldn’t be happier to see the city’s restaurants introduce their winter menus and the wine farms put forward their best red wines.
Giorgio Nava, who hails from Milan, is an incredibly talented chef and vastly successful restaurant owner, who also speaks with the most mesmerising, melodic Italian accent, is doing his bit to offset the winter chill at his two meat-dedicated, Cape Town-based eateries: Carne SA and Carne in Kloof Street. But he has an agenda, too, and that’s to confront the prejudices against a much-maligned meat: pork. And so, he has declared June “the month of pork” and has crafted a dedicated pork menu of epically delicious proportions, which he will be offering alongside his restaurant’s regular à la carte menu.
Let’s Talk About Pork
For many years now, decades perhaps, domestic pig would appear to have earned a negative reputation as a meat source. Viewed as an unclean animal with unhealthy meat that’s laced with artery-choking fats, and even a carrier of parasites, vast portions of the population have cut it out of their diets entirely. Some do it for religious or cultural reasons and others out of prejudice or for personal convictions.
And yet, casting your eyes back into history, you’ll learn that pork has been an essential part of the human diet for thousands of years and in countries all over the world. From Eastern and South-eastern Asia to Central Europe and, via colonisation, to much of the rest of the world. For example, the Spanish introduced pork to South and Central America, which percolated into the Southern United States and beyond.
In spite of its importance and history, pork today languishes in the no-man’s land between misunderstood and maligned. It brings one to the following question: if bacon has a near-on narcotic effect on people, why do we tend to shun pork chops, loins, ribs, and other parts of the animal?
This is the question I had on my mind as I left Giorgio Nava’s restaurant, Carne SA, after indulging in five courses of deliciously prepared pork.
A Five-course Pork Feast
There were seven of us seated around the table; a rack of Italian wines to my left, the industrial-chic interior of Carne SA, filled with happy diners, to my right. The wine for the evening was Steenberg’s Stately 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, a red blend of perfect depth, smoothness, and accessibility for the variety of courses that would becoming our way.
After a gracious welcome by Giorgio Nava himself, we embarked upon our first courses:
Succulent crumbed pork cutlet served on a swath of cauliflower purée, with a crispy chip delicately perched on top; penne Napolitano pasta laced with olive oil and parmesan cheese and topped with sticky pork ribs; and tender pork neck in a light, buttery sauce, served with beautifully-cooked sweet potato and a spoon of mashed potato. All the while, our wine and water glasses were kept topped up by the excellent, attentive staff.
Next up was the dish we had all likely anticipated the most: the pork belly! Here, I need to pause to explain the fantastic cooking technology Giorgio Nava makes use of in his Carne restaurants. A Josper charcoal oven is a Spanish innovation and is essentially a sophisticated combination grill and oven. And with temperatures of up to 450 degrees Celsius (and probably more), Giorgio and his team are able to quickly, precisely, and perfectly cook meats through, preserving interior tenderness and moisture, achieving delicious exterior crunch, and with a gorgeous deep, smoky flavour that’s unique to this charcoal oven. Such was the pork belly: crispy, crunchy fat and skin laced with tender strips of belly meat.
Our final pork course was an enormous pork chop, which he cooked to perfection, chopped up and served on a bed of red cabbage, vinegar, and mustard purée. With bellies filled almost to capacity, a refreshing dollop of pineapple sorbet and a small baked chocolate treat were the perfect ending to an epic pork feast.
A Newfound Respect
Each course of our truly special evening at Giorgio Nava’s Carne SA restaurant featured different cuts of pork prepared simply, yet expertly to deliver beautiful, rich flavours and succulent textures. There were no embellishments and no fancy sauces – they weren’t necessary because pork is a meat that, when cooked right, is absolutely delicious all on its own. It is also far cheaper than most cuts of beef and, from the health perspective, lean cuts of pork are high in protein, low in fat, and have more B-vitamins than many other types of meat.
Giorgio Nava has instilled in me a newfound respect for pork, which I have immediate plans to begin experimenting with. If responsibly sourced, compassionately raised, hygienically processed, and cooked well, there’s little reason why more people shouldn’t start doing the same.