Guerrilla Street Food's Lechon
One of the benefits of living in a former British colony (Singapore) is that the only Gordon Ramsay you see on TV is the foul-mouthed but kindhearted one, not the bombastic, seething American version. In the first two series seasons of Ramsay's appropriately named The F-Word, he and his family raise two Berkshire hogs at their home in order to show his children where meat comes from. It begins when the pigs are young, follows them all the way through their trip to the abattoir, and ends with a pork-filled feast in their honor. It was a little startling to watch—even Ramsay cries in the final episode—being that it was the first time I can remember seeing an animal slaughtered and broken down, but it made a lasting impression on me that changed how I bought and looked at meat. I try to only buy high quality, humanely raised meat. I do my best not to waste any of it.
This post may be considered graphic by some, but the photos included aren't meant to shock. Guerrilla Street Food's chef, Brian Hardesty, like so many chefs today, cares greatly about what he serves to customers and he's proud to be doing so. Every Saturday, weather and pig availability permitting, he and the GSF crew host a Filipino pig roast (the roasted pig is called lechon) at their restaurant off Grand and Arsenal.
I love, love, love lechon, so I asked if I could spend the day with him, watching the process from beginning to end. This 35-pound pig came from Geisert Farms in Washington, Missouri—each week Hardesty uses a different farm—and was stuffed with an array of aromatics before being sewn up with Hannibal-like precision and placed onto the spit.
Hardesty, who spent most of the day on the restaurant's patio, keeping an eye on the pig, continuously mopped it: first with soy, then with coconut water, a.k.a. the nectar of the gods. All day, Hardesty fielded questions from people walking by, including a shocking amount that asked, "Is that pig real?"
The fact that anyone would even ask that bewilders me.
With the help of Google and the Filipino community here in St. Louis, Hardesty has worked to improve his pig every cookout. On this pig, he was worried about the skin not being crispy enough, but when they started breaking it down in the kitchen, that skin cracked like glass.
Instead of serving just the roast meat and skin, they've been making Saturday dinner specials with it—the night I was there, it was a lechon mami, a soup. A fatty, tonkotsu-esque broth was filled with fresh noodles, roasted pork, amaranth leaves, local sweet corn, a burnt garlic oil, scallions, and lemongrass eggs. Crispy pig skin topped it off.
Dinner specials using the pig typically start at 5 PM, but if you're so inclined, you can head over earlier and sit on Guerrilla's patio with Brian while he cooks. As far as I know, this is the only weekly pig roast in St. Louis, and it deserves more attention. Support a local restaurant that's supporting local farmers, eat good food. Seems like a win all around to me.