Welcome back to Obsessed, the interview series in which we talk to uniquely driven amateurs and professionals from all across the food world. We hope to shed light on the passions that inspire enthusiastic food nerds, from home cooks to chefs on the line to veteran butchers, fishmongers, and farmers. Hopefully we'll also pick up some of their favorite tips, tricks, and food wisdom along the way. Know somebody who you think would be perfect for this interview series? Email us!
When we began this interview series, way back in January 2017, the very first person I hoped to interview was a guy who went by the name "Baron d'Apcher" on the eGullet forums. I'd stumbled across his posts in this lengthy terrine topic thread in 2011, while looking for some inspiration online to kick-start my own experiments with pâtés and terrines.
Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn offer a straightforward, perhaps blunt, definition for pâtés and terrines in their seminal book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. In a chapter titled "The Cinderella Meat Loaf," they write, "[B]roadly speaking, [they] are essentially big sausages cooked in some sort of mold.... Without a mold, they're meat loaf." A quick look at the first 10 pages of that eGullet thread are a testament to how apt this comparison is, and just how much culinary magic is required to turn that meat loaf into the stunning centerpieces that these classic preparations can be.
On the 11th page of that same thread, in a post dated January 12, 2010, the Baron makes his entrance with a stunner: a pâté en croûte, a creation that even Ruhlman and Polcyn describe as "mercilessly difficult." Here, the Baron went beyond merely encasing the pâté in pastry; he added pastry fleurs-de-lis and chimneys filled with aspic as exterior ornaments. A cross section reveals his eye for interior garnishes. While that pâté surpassed all the previous contributions by the society's members, the ones that the Baron posted subsequently were even more impressive, and demonstrated a rapidly developing proficiency over the course of several years.
I ended up following the Baron's blog after that, but it wasn't until we started looking for obsessives to interview that I finally learned who he actually is: Julien Shapiro, a chef, butcher, and charcutier working for 8 Hands Farm out in Cutchogue, on the North Fork of Long Island, which happens to be about 10 minutes from my in-laws' house. After sampling some of his wares—everything from dry-cured meats to galantines (pressed, poached forcemeat, usually poultry or fish, served cold); sausages; and, of course, pâté en croûte—and confirming that it all tasted as good as it looked, I sat down with Shapiro to talk about what he calls his "hopelessly dated and whimsical fabrications."
Name: Julien Shapiro
Facebook: 8 Hands Farm
What is pâté? What is pâté en croûte?
Julien Shapiro: A pâté is a mixture of ground protein (meat or fish)—often supplemented with fruit, nuts, vegetables, spices, dairy, eggs, alcohol, herbs, and bread—that is baked and served either hot or cold. Terrines are the vessels in which pâtés may be cooked. The word "terrine" also serves to distinguish already-cooked items that have been pressed together into a mold—such as a vegetable and goat's cheese terrine—from cooked pâté.
Pâté en croûte (simply "pâté croûte" in and around Lyon, France) is a pâté that is baked in pastry (generally savory), and the pastry is eaten. The pastry ranges from shortcrust and puff to hot-water pastry (which is popular in the UK), which result in a very crispy texture but are less workable in terms of making decorative embellishments. Fats can be butter, lard, or a mixture of both, even shortening. Initially, the pastry functioned as a method of preservation (it was very hard), but the pastry developed into the edible versions we have known for the past two centuries or so.
What do you generally sell at 8 Hands Farm?
JS: In the charcuterie case, we regularly have bacon, pressed ham, headcheese, scrapple, country pâté, pâté en croûte, pork liver pâté, chicken galantine, saucisson à l'ail [roasted-garlic sausage], chicken liver mousse, pork belly rillettes, pancetta, guanciale, capocollo.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where'd you grow up? How'd you get into cooking? How did you discover your love of charcuterie?
JS: I grew up out here. Wading River, about a half hour west of here. My mother's French—born in Denmark, really, but she's French—and every summer, basically from the age of five on, we went over to France to spend the summer with my grandmother. We'd go down to southern-central France, middle of nowhere, mountains, rivers, whatever. And so, from a pretty young age, I was exposed to the idea of markets and doing your shopping sort of piecemeal. You know, going to the butcher, the baker, the fruit stand.
And then I went to college at SUNY Buffalo, studied art history, kind of floundered a bit. I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and then I thought, "Well, I do like cooking, and I do have a French passport. So, I'll give cooking school a shot."
Had you cooked in restaurants at that point? In college or before?
JS: No. No, no. And that's why it was a considerable leap of faith. But I was always reading cookbooks at home and making stuff. I really didn't have much of an idea what I was getting into. It was a hotel management school, and we only cooked once or twice a week. And they made me take English classes. I told them, and I was specific: "I speak English very well. Not good. I speak English very well."
Did you speak French fluently?
JS: Yes. But they said I needed to learn British vernacular. And I said, "No, I'm done." And I spoke to the chef, and he said, not everybody went to school. You can go in, get in through the side door. So I applied to some restaurants, and then I worked at Maison Blanche, which was a high-end restaurant above the Champs Élysées. Everything fresh, live scallops every day, langoustines, tip-top products.
You're talking about brigade cooking?
JS: Yeah, brigade, exactly. And I hated it. I was there for about six months. And then I went to a smaller restaurant there, then moved to San Francisco. I thought I wanted to go to grad school, but I decided I liked cooking. I worked at Campton Place, and then moved to New York, worked at Aureole.
I then moved to DC, traveled a bit—I was a little bit of a vagabond for a while. And then I started working at Palena. That was the revelation. It closed a couple years ago, but Frank Ruta, the chef, he worked at the White House in the late 1970s and '80s and worked with the old-timers—the French guys and the German guys that could do everything 50 times faster than you, but better. And he was starting to make pâté en croûte, and he was making all his own charcuterie, and everything was made from scratch, with recipes. It was disciplined, and it was just a completely different reality.
You hadn't been exposed to pâté en croûte or that sort of charcuterie before?
JS: Oh, I'd seen it. But never the making of it. No restaurants were doing that. The restaurant I was at in France, they called what they were doing "inventive modern cuisine," you know? There were langoustines with ginger, there were scallops with artichokes—not specifically French, and it wasn't necessarily seasonal or anything like that; it was just whatever the guy wanted and could get.
But Palena was steeped in very old-world, classical French. Stuff like consommé. Recipes for everything. And I asked him one day, "Why do you do recipes for everything?" And he said, "Well, when I made soup and Nancy Reagan liked it and wanted it again, it had to be the same every time." And that's what the old French guys instilled in him.
Then he showed me his book of old pictures, Polaroids from the '80s, and it was all the centerpieces for state dinners and stuff like that. And there were ballotines [boned-out poultry filled with forcemeat, served hot], and galantines, and this cauldron made out of nougat, and lobster Bellevue, and all the stuff I'd read about in my very old Escoffier, 1902 cookbooks. And I thought, "Wow. This is what I want to do."
I liked the kitschiness of it. I liked the discipline and the artistry. He showed me the découpage, where they would take activated charcoal and aspic and make basically fake truffles, and then punch it out into a whole bunch of different shapes. And he was doing the flowers on top of the pâté, the croûte, and he said, "I did this for an event once, and people were like, 'What does it matter, because it's all gonna be cut anyway?'" And he said, "Yeah, but it matters to me, and you get to see it. All these other chefs, they get to see it whole." There was a little bit of showmanship and pride, and that's really where I started to learn all the butchering, the curing, all the cooking.
In 2011, I went to France to apprentice at Gilles Verot, which is the premier charcuterie shop. And then at Hugo Desnoyer, which is the premier butcher shop. I was there for a couple months, and that was eye-opening. It was like, now I'm committed to this, and now I have a little bit better of an idea of what I'm doing and how to do it.
What I took away from Gilles Verot was that these guys, all they did was charcuterie. But they didn't have, sort of, the sensibilities of a cook. You know? The herbs were all kind of dry; these guys didn't know how to cook rice; family meal was French fries. They could cut meat and make sausage and all that, but they didn't have a background in cooking. But I did, and I was able to incorporate a little more flavor and do some things a little differently, with different technique.
Can you break down the different elements of a pâté en croûte? Explain what the forcemeat is, what the garnishes are? Are there specific terms for the ornamental work on the pastry? Is a gelée necessary?
JS: The elements of the pâté en croûte are forcemeat, pastry, and aspic. The forcemeat is the ground mixture of meat or fish with varying textures—coarse, fine, a mix of both—and varying composition—lean, fatty, fat—that yield a firmer (lean) or softer (fatty) cooked product. The forcemeat can be bound with a mixture of eggs, dairy, and often bread (or other starch, such as flour or rice), which prevents too much fat from separating from the cooked product, or "breaking." Garnishes are optional and based on preference, but may include offal (heart, tongue, kidney, gizzards, backfat, ears, foie gras, et cetera); dried fruit, nuts; herbs; truffles; vegetables; hard-boiled eggs; and whatever else edible comes to mind.
The chimneys are the holes on the top of the pâté en croûte that allow the steam to escape—otherwise, the pastry would tear—and there are some versions with a completely open top. "Découpage" is the term for ornamental garnishes (they could be truffles, aspic, vegetables), and can certainly be applied to the decorative pastry, though it is purely for aesthetic purposes, showmanship, and prideful work.
The gelée, or aspic, is virtually essential for a cold pâté en croûte, and serves to fill the gap between the pastry that has expanded and set (as the forcemeat expands from the moisture during cooking) and cooled forcemeat that has shrunk slightly (from the loss in moisture). Without the firm aspic to fill the gap, the pâté would crumble as it is cut. Hot pâtés (hot pithiviers) do not require gelée/aspic, since the forcemeat is flush with the pastry as it comes out of the oven, though a sauce or gravy can be poured in after 10 minutes or so, once the forcemeat has begun to shrink but is still hot.
When you started posting on eGullet in 2010, was that when you were first figuring out how to make pâté en croûte?
JS: Yeah. When I first started doing them, I started a blog. I felt that was a way to help keep myself accountable. And by documenting it, I had a record of what I did, and I could actually track my progression.
I remember the first one I made was awful, in every sense of the word. And, you know, I didn't have too much guidance. Frank was a good mentor, but he was not gonna just give you the recipe and tell you how to do something. People are kind of protective of their intellectual property or whatever, and you kind of have to earn it. And I wanted to do it by myself. I started reading books, and just practicing. I screwed up a lot of them.
Can you talk about the pâté en croûte championship?
JS: In 2012, I submitted to the pâté en croûte championship, or the "pâté croûte championship," as it's written in Lyon. It began in 2009 and has been held every year in December, at Maison Chapoutier in Tain-l'Hermitage in France. I got selected, but I didn't necessarily do very well. But I learned a ton.
What does that entail?
JS: You send in an application with pictures and a detailed recipe. And it's all anonymous, and they contact you, and they say, "Well, we like what you did. Come on over." I had to make my pâté in Washington and then bring it over because the notice was so short, and I wasn't confident that I could use a kitchen in France. I went to Paris, took a train to Lyon, and I presented the whole pâté, and then it was sliced and the judges—chefs, writers, whatever—they tasted it, and then they scored it.
When you say you learned a lot at the competition, was that just from being around other charcutiers and seeing other people's stuff?
JS: And just talking to them. One guy said, "I make a brown butter pastry." Brown butter pastry? How's that possible? And I thought, "Oh, yes, so he makes brown butter and separates the solids." At least, that's what I figured, and that's what I do now: I make brown butter with herbs, and the brown solids I put back in the pastry, and it gives it almost that sort of vanilla smell, and it helps with the color, too. And then he said, "I build mine upside down." And, you know, the bottom comes off of the mold, so you can have your seam, turn it over, and the bottom is now the top, and it's totally seamless.
One thing people said about my pâté—aside from the flavor profile, which they didn't like (I did dove, gin-soaked currants, almonds, and lime, and they said, "These are not traditional French flavors," and I was like, "All right, fair enough")—I did a farce fine, which is like a fine forcemeat. And they said they preferred something chunkier. Then they also said, "Your pastry needs to be cooked more." "Needs more color." But I knew that when I was going in there.
I follow the competition every year. I submitted one for the championship last year—I never heard back from them. I got a mold shaped like a chicken silhouette. And that was chicken liver mousse, which I wrapped in fatback, and then below it I made a boudin, a white chicken boudin, and then I did a yellow one with turmeric, so it looked like an egg. So there was a little egg, and then a chicken on top. And that pâté en croûte had some chicken, you know, mostly pork, but with chicken gizzards, chicken hearts, all that kind of stuff.
One of the criticisms that I've heard from some of the judges now is that people are focusing on the aesthetics more than the actual flavor. People are trying to do a whole bunch of crazy stuff, but first and foremost, it's got to taste good.
What is it about pâté en croûte specifically, as opposed to, say, other forms of charcuterie, like dry-cured sausages and galantines, that appeals to you?
JS: I mean, pâté en croûte is a pain, it's a challenge. But for me, it's the high-water mark of cookery, because you've got the forcemeat, you've got the pastry, putting it together, cooking it properly, and filling it with a suitably firm aspic. And there are times when you can get a little hole on the side and put a gelée in, and it all comes out. It's complicated, but there's a tremendous amount of satisfaction when it comes out right.
The dry-cured Italian charcuterie.... I like to eat it, it's fun to make. It's just that there are many variables that are beyond my immediate control—pH, humidity, temperature, bacteria—that can't be remedied in real time. You hang it up in a closet for six months and hope for the best. People have been doing it for hundreds of years, and those people do it very, very well because they know how to do it. But it's hard for me to check it in real time. Whereas with pâté, after a week, I can change what I'm doing.
The hams are fun to make, and when you're doing it by hand, and you slice it, and you see that there are no brown spots and that you got the brine everywhere—there's a fair amount of satisfaction there, too. I would say probably my least favorite thing to do is making sausage, only because when the casings break, it's just such a mess.
With pâté en croûte, I have a pretty good idea of how it's going to taste, but, you know, the pork is gonna change a little bit from batch to batch. And, you know, depending on my mood, depending on the season, I might want to do figs in this one, and I might want to do cranberries in that one. So there are subtleties, and it's going to change. Sometimes it comes out good, and sometimes it doesn't. But with a lot of that stuff, it's kind of hard to tell right away. And, I guess, the anxiety is also thrilling, you know? Like, what's gonna happen?
Then there are the inlays, which are neat because you can sort of get fancy—if I have time, like in the winter, that's when I'll get more into doing the inlays—so when you slice it, you can see an image. And that's a lot of fun, because it looks sharp, you know? That's also where there's a little bit of creativity, too, because you gotta figure out, how do I get it perfectly centered? How do I get it so it doesn't change or smear?
And then you also want it to be consistent throughout the mold.
JS: Well, yeah. There's an exception, and it's a legend, and I've never seen it. I've heard of it. This guy Sébastien Carlier, who was a Meilleur Ouvrier de France charcuterie. Meilleur Ouvrier de France is basically a competition that you do to get this "master" certificate. Apparently, he did a pâté where the inlay was a clock with Roman numerals and two hands, and as you sliced it, the hands moved. Because he built it vertically. I mean, you hear of that, and you just want to break a plate over your head. "Why bother, what am I doing?" But that kind of stuff is fascinating. That's really cool.
Could you walk me through how you make your pâté en croûte?
JS: The first thing I start off with is the pastry. Like I said, I do a brown butter pastry. I cook my butter with either thyme or rosemary. I brown it, and once I get it to where I like it, I pull it off the stove, let it sit. Then I add a measured amount of water, which will separate the fat from the milk solids, and then I refrigerate that a day or two. And then I'll put that fat through a cheese grater and put it in with my flour and my salt.
I'll add some water if necessary; I add my eggs and the milk solids, a little bit of honey or malt syrup, only because European flours are malted, and sometimes ours aren't. That's gonna give it a little sweetness and strength. And then I'll paddle it, measure it out. I make three batches of dough. That's what fits into a mixer, a small KitchenAid one. I can't make too many batches ahead of time; they'll start to oxidize.
Then I'll measure out my pork, which is a little bit of a mix of lean and fatty, so I'll have some shoulder, and then I'll do maybe a little chunk of belly. But I do basically 900 to 1,000 grams, depending on how much garnish I'm going to put in. I marinate that with a measured amount of brandy. I add olive oil, and then generally one clove of garlic per batch. And then, depending on the season, a different type of herb or spice. That will infuse the brandy. Let that sit for a couple days.
And then, when I build the forcemeat, it's three different grinds. I do coarse, medium, and fine. And a little bit of that fine gets blended with egg, cream, liver. If I have chicken liver mousse, I'll use that. If I have foie gras, I'll use that. And then whatever brandy and olive oil were in the marinade. Then I'll calculate the seasoning. And after that, I add nuts, dried fruit, and then garnish. Whether it's heart, tongue, ham—you know, capocollo, pancetta, guanciale, lardo, whatever.
I line the mold with pastry, but before that, it gets brushed with a fat, either lard or bacon fat, which helps brown the dough. I fill it up and then turn it over, punch out my chimneys. Couple batches of egg wash. Make a little foil, and that keeps the juices from going all over the side. And then one final coat of egg wash. You want to put the egg wash at the end, or else it cracks. The egg wash has to be fresh, as in still moist, or else, when it browns, it will just get this sort of shattered look.
Figuring out the cooking, that took a while. Because you want to start out with high heat so that your pastry cooks, sets, and then starts to brown. And then you want to lower the heat so that the forcemeat has a chance to cook. I cook the pâtés to 157°F (69°C) internally, and I pull them out, and they carry over until they reach 163 to 165°F (73 to 74°C).
I let it cool a little bit. And then I add the aspic, which is made from consommé. We make a sort of pho with all the pork bones from the farm, and we make pasta with egg yolks, and with all the leftover egg whites, we clarify the pork stock to make consommé. Pork consommé isn't standard, but since it's a pork pâté, I don't really have a problem with it. And then I add sheet gelatin to it. When the pâté en croûte has started to cool, and it's starting to shrink a little bit, you start to pour in the gelée. You don't want the pâté to be totally cool. You want to start pouring some aspic in as the pâté shrinks, because you want it to get absorbed, which helps prevent the pâté from shrinking too much.
What about the inlays?
JS: In the past, I've done just a simple inlay. For example, when I was doing it with squab, I would use the squab breast with a little bit of pork, cream, eggs, tomato, a little bit of paprika for the color. And then I would roll it into a cylinder, freeze it, and then wrap that in either fatback or pancetta and freeze it again. And then I fill in the mold with two-thirds of the forcemeat by weight. Press it down so it goes a little over halfway up the mold, and you put the inlay in frozen. And that's how you keep the nice, round shape.
You know, you can also do roses. For that, you get a pastry tip and sort of pinch it, so it looks like a teardrop. And you get a fish poacher or something like that, and with your pastry bag, you do a long strip, which will give you the profile of a teardrop that's long. And then you gently take that out, freeze it, wrap in fatback. You do that six or seven times, and then you pack them one next to the other, and you get something that looks like a flower.
That sounds very work-intensive.
JS: Yeah. The guy that won the competition the year that I went, he did a rose down the middle. And then there was a hunting scene on the side. He used black trumpet mushroom powder, so it was jet-black. And then on top, he did the egg wash over a stencil, and it had all the ingredients written out on top in a nice type set. It was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.
So that's not the sort of stuff that you would do here?
JS: Maybe when there's a hurricane or a blizzard and I have a week to mess around, yeah, sure, I'll do that. But now, that juice isn't worth the squeeze. I have a limited amount of time. And especially in the busy season, you know, if my boss sees me, kind of, messing around with that, he might be like, "Hey, there are more important things to do." I'm all about it, don't get me wrong. But I think that's maybe a little bit more masturbatory than it needs to be. Especially since, once you're halfway through it, it may be lost on someone. But for a competition, absolutely. That's what that stuff's for.
It's showmanship. And it's satisfaction. And when you can make an inlay.... I did one for Cochon555, a pistachio inlay. It was a perfect pistachio cylinder right down the middle. And then I did some silhouettes of pigs on the side, which came out really nice. And I did one where I had a star down the middle that was perfectly centered. And that took a lot of engineering, to make a plastic mold that was a perfect star. I don't know if I can re-create that. That was dumb luck. But I was really satisfied with that.
What is the best way to eat pâté en croûte, or a galantine?
JS: Not real warm, but room-temp. If it's too cold, the flavors are muted. I don't think it needs too much. You know, it's basically well balanced on its own, especially because it has the aspic. But I like something that's just kind of refreshing on the side. Shaved beets, pickled beets, couple greens, little salad. I think people assume that with pâté, you just always smear it on bread. You can eat it by itself with some mustard, something like that. I think you do want something that's maybe sharp and kind of acidic, just to kind of clean the palate.
Can you talk a little bit about your mold collection? How many pieces do you have, total?
JS: I have 17 molds. Cast aluminum jambonneaux (mini ham molds), larger ham- and pig-shaped molds, a tin game pie mold, tin hinged pâté en croûte molds of varying sizes, and a cylindrical mold. Each type of mold has a different purpose, and I use them all regularly. The large, 50-centimeter pâté en croûte mold is a bit more of a challenge to use, given the size, but the finished product is rewarding. The large ham mold is very practical, and a properly shaped ham would be almost impossible without it.
If someone were looking to get into making pâté and other forms of molded charcuterie, where would you suggest they start? Any cookbooks or other resources you can recommend? Any initial advice you'd want to give them?
JS: First and foremost, a culinary background is beneficial, as is an understanding of the theory and practice of charcuterie fundamentals, like measuring, grinding, seasoning, and mixing. Pâtés & Terrines by Edouard Lonque is a worthwhile reference for base recipes and techniques in metric measurements.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.