I had just roasted a chicken for dinner the night before the New York Times article “In Search of Tastier Chickens, Strict Diet of Four Star Scraps,” by Jeff Gordinier appeared in the paper. So, it indeed came at an opportune time to catch my attention. As I usually do, I split my chicken in half, stuffed a layer of garlic and herbs under the skin and rubbed it with a generous amount of olive oil and sea salt and then roasted it for about two hours until the skin was nice and crispy. The chicken roasts above a layer of leeks, carrots and sweet potatoes which soak up the intense flavor from the drippings. This meal is a favorite with the kids who clamor for a leg or a wing and always ask for seconds.
Things weren’t so different this Monday when I served dinner except I noticed something different about this chicken. There were not only many tough membranes attached to a skimpy amount of meat, but it just didn’t have the usual flavor. I could taste the garlic and herbs as I usually do but the chicken. . . .well, it just didn’t taste that (for lack of a real word) chickeny. And this does happen from time to time despite my consistency with my recipe. And I even bought a “natural, farm raised” chicken, what I thought should be decent and at least tasty.
Apparently, I wasn’t so crazy after all. Some of the big chefs at top NYC restaurants — Per Se, Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, Daniel — feel the same way about chicken and are on a mission to “rediscover what a chicken should taste like.” The approach: top restaurants chefs are working with farmers to feed chickens special diets from restaurant leftovers and unused scraps (peelings from vegetables and day old bread). And they have the system down to such a science that the chickens will be served scraps from the specific restaurants that will serve them to diners. I can see quite a competition starting among the chefs to feed their chickens and it seems like these chickens are going to get fed better than me!
The idea does make sense to me. Instead of throwing the scraps in the garbage or composter, feed them to the future meat. It’s an interest phenomenon that these chickens, fed with the ingredients from the fine establishments, will then be served to diners at those same restaurants.
But will the chickens taste any better? Or is this just a big publicity stunt or an excuse to charge more for the usual “cheaper chicken?” I’m betting the former and with a testimonial as exuberant as that from Jean-George Vongerichten, (apparently one taste of these “restaurant-to-farm” back to restaurant chickens raised chicken brought tears to his eyes) I think they may be onto something! What’s more, this new approach to creating better tasting chickens is being financed and backed by D’Artagnan which gives it great credibility. I just hope they bring the chickens from restaurant to farm and to the kitchens of home chefs like us.