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In praise of pork


A new restaurant focuses on all things porcine.

Greg Horton June 29th, 2011

In a 1995 episode of “The Simpsons” titled “Lisa the Vegetarian,” Homer Simpson exasperates his daughter, Lisa, by asking her to enumerate the meats she will no longer eat: pork chops, bacon and ham. Lisa snaps at him that those meats all come from the same creature.

With a high degree of snark, Homer famously replies, “Yeah right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.”

In early July, chef Joshua Valentine and managing partner Courtney Evans plan to open Divine Swine, 7801 N. May, a breakfast and lunch restaurant dedicated to the glory of the pig, that wonderful, magical animal. Valentine, currently chef de cuisine at The Coach House, 6437 Avondale Drive, has what he calls “a slight infatuation” with pork, an assessment that is revealed to be too mild when considering he has a tattoo on one forearm of a pig silhouette with butchers cuts.

Valentine was raised in Del City, and he said he developed a curiosity with food while wrestling in high school.

“We had to make weight or cut weight,” he said, “so I started reading books and magazines about food to figure out what I could eat.”

After school, he studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis and went to work for James Beard Award-winning chef Alexander Roberts of Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis.

“I was there for about two years,” Valentine said. “It laid the groundwork for what a chef and a restaurant ought to be.”

Over the next few years, Valentine worked in restaurants in Dallas and Los Angeles, but he moved back to the metro after the birth of his first daughter.

“My goal in those days, whatever city I was in, was to do research, find the best restaurant, and work there,” Valentine said. That led him to Kurt Fleischfresser’s apprenticeship program at The Coach House. “Kurt told me I wouldn’t make much money because it was an apprenticeship program. I told him I didn’t care; I wanted to work with him.”

He graduated about two years later, worked at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club, but soon moved back to Dallas.

Fleischfresser describes Valentine as “one of the chefs who almost got away.”

“He left, and then in a string of unusual events, he came back,” Fleischfresser said, “and I’m pleased he’ll be adding to our great culinary landscape.”

The string of unusual events included the death of Valentine’s father in 2010. Now, he’s planning the opening of Divine Swine.

“I think every chef aspires to have a place where they have reign,” Valentine said. “I want to take my background in fine dining and apply the approach to casual dining. No menu item will be above $10, and I’ll do all the labor of making everything from scratch.”

He means everything, right down to the ketchup. He also plans to source as much local food as possible, as well as local beer.

“We’re only serving Coop beer,” he said. “We’ll offer everything they have in bottles, and we’ll have a wine list that I’ve not finalized yet.”

Courtney Evans will manage the front of house, and she said so far the project has been all family and friends pitching in to help.

“We’ve done the remodel of the location ourselves,” Evans said, “and our friends and family have been great.”

Evans, a 2008 Classen School of Advanced Studies graduate, will begin her junior year at the University of Central Oklahoma in the fall. As for her involvement in Divine Swine, Evans explains it thus: “I just want people to know you can make a dream happen,” she said. “Even if it’s because you believe in someone so much (speaking of Valentine), you can do it if you put your mind to it and work hard.”

Both Valentine and Evans want to introduce people to their concept of homemade food made affordable. “We think people will like the idea that you don’t have to charge outrageous prices for homemade quality,” Evans said.

The “everything from scratch” method is the way Fleischfresser has always done business at The Coach House, and he said it will be interesting to see it done at a casual dining restaurant. “It’s labor intensive, for sure,” he said, “and it doesn’t make you economically viable up front.”

Valentine is sober about Divine Swine’s future; it’s part of the reason that it’ll only be open for breakfast and lunch initially.

“I’ll continue to work evenings at Coach House while we get this going,” he said. “Kurt’s been very supportive. Eventually, I may go to a dinner menu, but we’ll see how things go.”

For those who don’t share his obsession with pork, Valentine will offer non-pork items on the menu, including turkey and salads, but the focus will be on that wonderful, magical animal.

THIS LITTLE PIGGY
When you love pork like Joshua Valentine does, there are no limits to menu imagination, especially with something as versatile.

“I even researched pig milk,” he said. “I wanted to know if it was possible to do it.”

Fret not, future patrons: There will be no pig milk on the menu, nor cheese from pig milk. But there will be an amazing array of pork dishes, including what may prove to be one of the best burgers in town.

Valentine makes his hamburger from ground pork, ground bacon and just a little beef. The beef is for texture.

“I wanted people who are accustomed to a certain texture to enjoy the burger, so I threw in a little beef,” he said.

Kurt Fleischfresser, owner and executive chef of The Coach House, said Valentine’s passion for pork always showed. “While he’s worked for me, he’s always found ways to incorporate pork, especially bacon.”

The years of practice paid off. The menu includes candied bacon French toast, as well as candied bacon sticky buns for dessert. Traditional comfort food will also be available, including whole hog sausage gravy and biscuits, peach pie with buttermilk-lavender ice cream and Valentine’s homemade pork cracklings.

The entrées, all priced at $10, include seared pork belly, grilled pork loin and braised pork. The menu for weekend brunch will be a combination of breakfast and lunch items. —Greg Horton

 
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