Thomas Hancock, Chef, CowPigChicken
To be good at anything, you need to put in the practice ...
Vegetarians, avert your eyes, and carnivores, rejoice. Local chef Thomas Hancock is on a mission to change the way you think about meat. Asserting that the least popular cuts are often the most flavoursome, this Brisbane cook sears primal cuts of meat and serves them inside the incredibly popular rolls flying across the table at his new market stall, CowPigChicken. Nose-to-tail butchery is by no means a new concept, but it’s still not commonplace in our neck of the woods. The philosophy aims to reduce wastage by making better use of the whole animal and offering an arguably more responsible approach to eating meat. While you may have sampled Thomas’s cooking at local venues like Public, Il Centro or even aboard Queensland Rail’s Sunlander train in the past, these days you’ll find him doing a roaring weekend trade at the Jan Power’s Farmers Market in New Farm. The Weekend Edition caught up with Thomas to talk about his new venture, CowPigChicken.
What first drew you to the food industry?
My mum signed me up to do a pre-vocational cook’s course at TAFE after school and I just fell in love with cooking. I would – and still do – read every cookbook cover to cover and watch as many cooking DVDs as possible. My days off were either spent at the library, cooking at home or I’d ring restaurants and work for the day for free, just to learn more.
What’s the most rewarding part of cooking for others?
It’s satisfying serving up a great meal, especially to friends and family. A certain confidence comes from doing it for so long, and it gets a whole lot easier to do.
What can you tell us about CowPigChicken?
We sell rolls that have been made using beef, pork or chicken that has all been cooked sous vide. I use parts of the animals that have a lot of cartilage and connective tissue, so that when cooked, it melts through the meat and adds to the depth of flavour. So trotters, tails, cheeks, bellies, ribs and shoulders are all part of our rolls. Before serving, the meat is seared on a hot plate so the fat crisps up and adds another layer of complexity to the taste.
What set you on the path to discovering the value of these often-ignored parts?
No one else does it – not in Brisbane anyway. Although the technique of sous vide has been around for a while, it’s only recently become popular, and I loved learning about it. It seemed like a niche that could be filled.
Why do you think it’s important to reduce wastage and use more parts of the animal when cooking meat?
It’s important to use as much of the animal as possible. Australians have become fussy on what they eat and a lot of butchers get their carcasses in with some of these parts already trimmed off. I understand that the average family doesn’t want to spend two days cooking dinner, but they could substitute T-Bone Night or Rissole Wednesday occasionally. Most of these more unpopular cuts are cheap, although they don’t have as much yield as the more expensive parts.
What’s one thing you’d like to tell the public about this food philosophy?
Give it a try!
Have you met much resistance from the public?
I’m surprised by how educated people are about the different meats. Shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules, apps like Instagram and Twitter, and the amount of chefs who have become ‘celebrities’ have all educated the public and made them more aware of what they eat. Customers used to think MSG was poison, parsley was fancy and all meat had to be dry and overcooked. Now, they’re very willing to try a pork roll that has been made with hooves and cheeks. Although I know from working in restaurants that parts like tongues and brains, while they have their fans, aren’t too popular in Brisbane.
The French term ‘sous vide’ might not mean much to the average home cook – what can you tell us about this cooking process?
Sous vide has been used since the 1970s but it became commonplace in the last ten years or so in commercial kitchens. It basically means you take say, a marinated pork belly, then vacuum seal it in a bag and place it in water with a regulator keeping it at 72°C. Leave it for two days to slow cook and it will become tender, juicy and full of flavour. It’s a huge step for restaurants because you can portion control all of your stock and cook it off before service. When I started my apprenticeship, there were only seven considered methods of cooking: roasting, baking, boiling, frying and smoking. Sous vide added another method of cooking that was exciting and it’s still in its experimental stage.
What’s the secret formula to crafting the perfect meat roll?
To design the perfect roll, I broke it into six parts: bread, coleslaw, onion, cheese, meat and sauce. I took each element and made it the best way I knew how. The onion is confit in ghee and garlic for hours, then strained and liquefied. I use Tasmanian aged cheddar and melt it with some sodium citrate, which stops the proteins separating from the dairy fats. And I dress the coleslaw in Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise, because it’s the best-tasting mayonnaise in the world.
What’s your personal favourite item on the menu?
Our most popular roll is the pig with homemade apple ketchup. However, I always find myself eating the chicken. A whole chicken is cooked in butter and Sriracha sauce for six to eight hours – the meat literally falls off the bone. Then it’s fried and served with fresh bread and accompaniments, including my smoked tomato marmalade. It’s impossible not to love it … I wish I had one right now.
What are your words of wisdom?
All I know is to be good at anything, you need to put in the 10,000 hours of practice!
What is success to you?
Achieving the goals you set for yourself.
Only a local would know … the best markets in Brisbane are Jan Power’s Farmers Market – New Farm.
FAVOURITE WEEKEND SPOT TO:
Perk up … Next to my coffee machine.
Relax … Moreton Island.
Indulge … Sheraton Mirage, Gold Coast.
Shop … Online.
Catch-up … The Glen Hotel, Eight Mile Plains.
Dine … Public, Brisbane City.