Tag Archives: Alex Pope

The Ribald Sophisticate’s Guide to Food Fighting…

On the evening of February 11, 2013, while participating in CCVI Food Fight 4 at The Guild in Kansas City, I finally became a Foodie.  If you know me, I have never viewed that as good thing.  In fact, my mockery of foodies has fueled many a chortle on this very blog.  I’ve met many self-proclaimed foodies whom I don’t think actually like food, they just like to collect food moments….so they use this ambiguous label that has no actual definition as a way to carve out a self-promoting niche based on what makes their particular brand of chewing and swallowing unique and a potential object of great envy.  For the most part, “foodies” aren’t the people I want to eat with. I want to eat with some crazy motherfuckers who talk some crazy shit about some very unhealthy obsessions and always order way too much fucking food and tip well.  A “foodie” would waste time trying to think of a more palatable way of saying crazy motherfuckers before they wrote something like this and guilted everyone they knew into reading it.  I don’t have time for such things.  I’d rather entertain five crazy motherfuckers than five thousand boring motherfuckers.  

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT….I’m working on a classy piece here because dammit if it wasn’t the best time ever.  And I say that as someone who has attended some extremely hoity toity and professionally run galas and fundraisers, as well as helped organize far less hoity toity affairs. Food Fight was a hell of an event, top notch across the board.  A lightbulb had gone off in my head a few days prior, and as we were prepping onstage I told Howard Hanna “so tonight I’m officially a foodie”, to which he gave me his heartfelt congratulations.   I was like “Yeah, I have somehow managed to reap the benefits owed to people who break their backs in this industry on a daily basis by weaseling in at the last second and getting some of the limelight without doing any real work.  So that’s it. I’m a foodie now.”  So I can’t make fun anymore.  The foodies have won.

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I’m flippant about foodie culture, but in all sincerity it was a huge deal to be asked to participate in such an amazing event.  I’ve got some pretty crazy life experiences that just kind of appeared, so while I can chalk this one up to my usual dumb luck, other than Dave Crum’s massive crush on me and Dolly Wood being cool as hell I have no idea how this materialized.  I have a weirdly high level of insecurity when it comes to my place in the world, so I figured this was a matter of “let’s throw the poor Make-A-Wish kid a bone”.   That’s just how my mind works. And the awesome byproduct of that gaping hole in my psyche is always being “ON”….completely balls-out or zero….no game but my A-Game.  When I commit, I fucking commit.  When Dave asked if I’d be Alex Pope’s sous chef, there was almost zero hesitation.  A friend whom I respect asked me if I’d do something super cool that could have a positive impact, so not much thought needed.  The only hesitation I had was that, as a FOODIE, my livelihood is in no way tied to the food community…I’m just along for the tasty ride.  Even though they were looking for “civilian” sous chefs, several friends came to mind that may have been able to benefit from having CCVI Food Fight on their list of accomplishments.  To be honest, I didn’t go beg their case, I was too floored to have been asked in the first place and immediately flew into balls-out mode to prepare.  But in general, that’s how I try to approach this whole thing and why “foodie” has creeped me out….as someone skilled in the arts of bullshit and yapping away, it’s important to me to be authentic in my relationships.  I’m not saying that anyone who simply beams under that moniker is immediately inauthentic, but self-proclaimed titles have a way of allowing someone to bypass the consistent behavior that would normally be the path to high regard and respect. I live my life according to a program that breaks it all down for me.  I am lucky to count so many great people as friends.  That point was driven home to me when I read the list of all of the chefs and restaurants involved in Food Fight…no matter how stupid I ended up looking, I would get to look stupid in front of my friends.


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Looking stupid was actually task #2. Task #1 was to drive my chef crazy with my shocking lack of skill.  Oh, I’m a great home cook.  Give me enough time to prepare and a cookbook and I can make almost anything. And if it’s something I end up sucking at, I’ll just keep doing it until I get it right.  No such luck with Food Fight. I emailed Alex and basically said “I have nice knives and no knife skills, but I take direction well”.  But he’s a pro, a crazy busy chef who took the time to put my mind at ease.  The plan was…think of things we can cook quickly.  In an hour there’s only so much you can do, and my initial thought was that if I could stay out of the way, expedite simple tasks and handle some dessert prep, I could add value. In addition to getting my knives sharpened and practicing basic cuts on mirepoix and potatoes, I thought that a couple of doughs that don’t require yeast could be handy for sweet or savory preparations.  Alex mentioned he was bringing a deep fryer, so I tried finding a recipe for funnel cake/fritter batter.  I tried one that was a huge failure, but I also practiced on some pate a choux to make gougeres or profiteroles without realizing the shit fries up like a champ.  So going into Food Fight my entire plan was to bring sharp knives, parchment paper, a Japanese mandoline, my own apron and cutting board, piping bags with tips already attached, rubber gloves, various tools like peelers and thermometers, and to practice choux dough enough times for it to basically become a reflex action.  Oh, and to be an ambassador for Pointer Brand jeans and clothing….100% American made products that are a fitting rebuttal to Baldwin Denim for the poor and/or fat crowd.  Pointer Brand. Quality and Affordability, Made in the U.S.A.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

A bit of knowledge for future CCVI Food Fighters…cooking in a space that isn’t normally a kitchen is different from cooking at home.  Biggest differences?  No running water, a lack of large gas burners and ovens, and you don’t have all of the same kitchenware and serveware that you do at home.  If you have giant, blinding spotlights pointing at you at home already, then boom….you’re one up on the competition immediately.  I am missing those at home, so it took some getting used to.  Another advantage is if you already have four or five top local chefs milling about your kitchen.  A constant reminder that you do not know what you are doing provides a backdrop of nagging doubt that builds character.  I am a master at smiling and nodding when food talk goes over my head, but there’s no such thing as being TOO good at that.  Even if I know what something is, when I have a lot of terminology coming at me from different sources, it takes a few seconds for me to gauge how deeply I should commit to a conversation about saucisson or vadouvan.  Usually, if you just shut up you can piece it together from what’s being said.  But if you seriously have no clue whatsoever, the earlier you can admit that and ask a clarifying question the better off you will be in the long run.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Another thing I learned was to be honest and to the point when Alex would ask me “you got that?” or “you get what I’m saying?”  There isn’t a lot of time to discuss technique or basic philosophy when you forget basic things like…adding water.  Chopped sweet potatoes and piloncillo cooking down too thick too quickly?  Add a little water.  Those same sweet potatoes bunching up at the top in the blender and not mixing?  You may want to consider adding a little bit of water.  I could theorize that a liquid may facilitate the process, but what kind?  Some sort of broth?  A simple infused syrup?  What would they use at Joe Beef? When I’m forced to think on my feet and act quickly, I forget things like water exist to help you, and which side of a peeler is the sharp side. But my pre-tipped piping bag, and identical backup piping bag (redundant systems), looked fabulous over by the blender that was top-heavy with large sweet potato chunks.  Chef Pope is a real pro, these guys could do something like this in their sleep, so when I did not wreck anything beyond the power found in adding more water, I felt very successful.  My main concern was whether or not I’d be any help to my chef, because being in front of a crowd, speaking in public or being onstage have zero effect on me.  And speaking of crowds, the place was packed, so it was actually a relief to have a comparatively vast expanse of space to work with on the stage.

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The format is part Iron Chef part Chopped.  Upon arrival you’re welcome to investigate the pantry as well as a cooler full of mandatory ingredients like cod, skirt steak, walnuts, piquillo peppers, salami and cheese.  Then right before the cooking begins they let the cutest child alive unveil the secret ingredient…sweet potato.   So there was a decent amount of time to get some sort of game plan together and hope that the secret ingredient didn’t destroy it completely.  As Alex was going over what he thought would work, the aforementioned smiling and nodding came in handy.  When a scaleable multi-course plan is required on demand, you leave it to the professionals.  A tartare first, followed by sautéed cod, and then funnel cakes.  I was on the hook for dough and working the secret ingredient into some whipped cream cheese.  Normally that wouldn’t be a scary plan to me, but everything leading up to this sentence should let you know how that became a scary plan to me. With the addition of sweet potatoes, chips were added to the tartare, sautéed potatoes and onion to the main, and a puree to the dessert.  Normally I’d have an annoying breakdown of each preparation along with exhaustive tasting notes, but shit went fast and in the end I think I had one bite of a funnel cake and I shared a Jacobson meatball with Howard. In the end, Doug Frost broke out of his Moscow on the Hudson impersonation long enough to praise the cod dish, and Debbie Gold was all about some funnel cakes.  Everything up to that point was a blast, so to have Alex win was an insane bonus to the evening.  A special thanks to Reames Photography for capturing proof that my emotional range is larger than pissed off and/or sarcastic….

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

If I had to offer praise to foodies, I would say that they generally take more chances than I do.  They’ll take a chance and investigate whether or not a place like Mestizo is about as shitty as one would imagine with that concept in that location. I will not take that chance. At least not until I hear first hand from someone I trust that it’s worth investigation.  Because I keep my circle very tight and build outward very, very slowly.  Not because I’m special, or because I’m cool, but because I value things like loyalty, trust and friendship in a way that makes me someone with lifelong relationships that are very rarely disturbed by needless drama.  I take that with me into the world of dining and procuring goods, and again, have managed to build what I hope are lifelong friendships that also remain undisturbed by dramas or agendas.  If I’m cool, or fun, or funny, it’s because I’m able to be comfortable as myself and not a caricature that shifts with the trends and current places to-be-seen.  The amicable bullshitter persona is part of the package, for better or worse.  I don’t practice that or consciously think about it, it just exists.  But with all of the solemn omerta-ish duty to authenticity comes the tendency to be a total fucking control freak who simply expands his comfort zone rather than ever just get out of it.  An event like Food Fight helps me to remember a saying I have lived by less often than I should in the past four or five years….always have something in your life that makes you wonder what in the hell you are doing.  Foodies are probably better at that than me because they lack the insane vetting process I have and just go with the flow, taking the hits and the misses.  I still rule though, I mean, come on.

The bottom line is, the list of things that I love has to become larger.  The place in my life meant for others has to become larger.  The asshole with a heart of gold schtick, and years of ministry, allow me to skate by without putting in real work.  I’ve had a few years to get my shit together, and things are going better than I ever dreamed.  Marriage and fatherhood are the life for me.  I’m always going to help drunks, and I’m always going to be helped by drunks.  That is as natural as breathing at this point.  But it’s not the end game, it’s just part of the expanded comfort zone.  A friend contacted me out of the blue just a few days after I was asked to take part in Food Fight, and they asked me “as the restaurant guy, if I knew people who would want to get involved with a charity”.  I’ve been asked that question before, and should have done more before now, but this time it struck me differently.  The path that my life has taken, and the resulting laundry list of miraculous moments and fantastic people, is equal to the debt that I owe.  Now, I don’t have a bug up my ass to go and die from not being able to shit like Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”…..I’m not about to launch into reckless self discovery here…I’m just a lucky guy who should do more.  I’m good with people and I know a lot of people.  Something like helping with CCVI Food Fight in whatever capacity they need me (I won’t be a valet, not because it’s beneath me, I’m just not running back and forth) from now on is a no-brainer.  The organization my friend works for is another path to investigate.  Unexpected moments that are out of your control can be great practice at working towards a meaningful impact.  Broth is great, but sometimes water will do just fine.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under CCVI Food Fight, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

Nurture My Pig…

 

Basically the coolest possible mural...

 
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a pretty cool event at the soon to open butcher shop- Local Pig…it was the first in a series of pig butchery classes sponsored by Slow Foods Kansas City and taught by Chef and Owner of Local Pig, Alex Pope. The series will go from nose to tail, and this weekend’s instruction focused on the head….braised cheeks, guanciale made from the jowls, pork stock and headcheese created from boiling the trimmed head. On the way there, I couldn’t get a recent Portlandia skit out of my head….possibly the most brilliant one I’ve seen thus far….where everything was just like it was “back in the 90’s”….the 1890’s. Butchering, canning, pickling, microbrewing, handlebar moustaches, and the excessive amount of untrimmed facial hair that is a requirement these days for that “hillbilly hipster” look. Actually, you can’t ding Kansas City too much for getting back to a time where anyone who doesn’t live here in “flyover country” apparently assumes still exists…just like it did back in the 1890’s.
 

The key to a magical afternoon in a young man's life...

This is my pig head. There are many like it but this one is mine.

I have never, and will never, apologize for my enthusiasm for the Kansas City food scene. I don’t care where you are from, if I’m your guide in this town you will eat food that impresses you.  We’ve been getting more and more much deserved press over the past few years, to the point where travel shows and publications don’t immediately feature Stroud’s and Bryant’s and then trundle onward. This is the point at which, if I were a real food blogger, I’d cite all kinds of goddamn examples…but that is not my milieu, my site is more like a teenage girl’s diary. The recognition is due, in large part, to the fact that we have amazing farmers and chefs in the area who are starting to put a hell of a dent in the Sysco Foods, stripmall chain dining that is typical in a town where eating out is a major pastime. Local, sustainable, farm to table, seasonal, artisanal, organic…if I’m leaving out any annoyingly overused terms let me know. But it’s true, we’ve got all that shit and we have an abundance of industry professionals who maximize what is available. As far as this weekend’s event is concerned, we drift on back to the 1890’s to a quaint storefront, down a quiet road past an industrial area that has GOT to have about fifteen “It puts the lotion in the basket!” style kill rooms dotting the landscape as well as the bar from “The Accused”….I’m not kidding you. It’s fucked up. It doesn’t scare me or anything, I’ve lived in worse, and I’m a Buford Pusser style badass. I’d open a bar down there and call it “The Cadaver Dog”. I would take payment in human ears. And the only song on the jukebox would be “Goodbye Horses”.

Class #1 down, three to go....cannot wait for the grand opening.

 

Cool storefront...

 

The front counter and meat case...

 

Looking back into the kitchen and workspace...

 

The "wish list", I am personally wishing they'd put Pad Thai Pate at the top of the list

 

In addition to meat products, they'll offer different salts, rubs, spices, nuts and house infused honeys...

 
 
Offal and charcuterie are two of my favorite things…ever. I kid you not. Even shitty stuff…..I’ll eat the hell out of that horrible braunschweiger in the orange-yellow tube from Price Chopper, canned deviled ham, I’ve never met a cheap piece of pepperoni I didn’t love. They could just come up with a line of processed meats called “GOUT” and I’d be the first in line to try it. SO WHEN I GET AHOLD OF THE GOOD STUFF…..watch out. This is another point at which, if I were an actual food writer, I’d give you the rundown of all of our local sausage makers, artisanal charcuterie gurus, and tie it all together with some historical info and a humorous anecdote or two….but again…LAZY! Justus Drugstore’s Farmer’s Platter, as well as whatever the guys at The Rieger have on the current menu, and most recently the sweet goodness at 715 are all examples of must-try charcuterie as well as nose to tail cooking in general. Different textures all in one bite, unctuousness, richness…there just isn’t anything like it. So when I showed up at Local Pig for our class, it was nice to find that our hosts had gone above and WAY beyond to guarantee us some quality deliciousness…..and they have scratch and sniff business cards.
 
 

Grass fed beef meatballs and guanciale...with a touch of tablescape.

 

Another shot of the food, it was way beyond what I expected for classroom snacks.

 

The money shot....if it doesn't excite and entice you, then it's because you have a rotten soul.

 

I’ve been to a bunch of different events attended BY Chef Pope, but I don’t think I’d ever eaten any of his food before Saturday… never ate at R Bar and didn’t go to either of the Vagabond pop-ups. So I won’t do the annoying high school girl foodie blogger social butterfly name-droppy oneupsmanship thing. But I will say, he was a hell of a nice guy, a great host, and it is obvious the man is very serious and dedicated to his latest venture. And it is always fun to watch someone butcher purely from muscle memory. The class moved swiftly, and was very informative in a way that…if you HAD questions about the basics they would be happily and thoroughly answered, but the assumption was that you came to the table with SOME knowledge and you weren’t eeked out by the carving of meat. I will say that was one thing that will bring me back for the rest of the series….Alex is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor, but the class isn’t geared towards the biggest dumbass in the room like many, many…okay nearly 100% of cooking classes seem to be structured (go roll with the Coffee Klatch contingent out at The Culinary Institute of Kansas City…sweet baby Jesus, the instructors deserve medals and all the oxycontin they can eat).  With it being a Slow Foods KC event, it was a good crowd and pretty much everyone I spoke with was really cool. I know that if he is as successful in this venture as I predict he will be, there will be many, many classes geared towards “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Alex’s future, and for that I applaud him because I realize that patience with morons translates into dollars in the restaurant world. As a different kind of moron myself, I have had to count on that level of kindness. BUT I could never be in the service industry unless there was a need for someone who could make the impatience of the late great Tom Macaluso look positively restrained and precocious in comparison. He was famous for ringing no-call-no-show customers at 1am to let them know everyone at the restaurant was worried sick about them and that their table was still waiting. On a bad night, I could see myself taking a more direct approach, like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, wailing away on that new Corvette…”Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass???”….sure, I’d be a local hero and I could count on my service industry compadres happily chipping in to post bail, but long story short- I don’t belong in that world. I leave the hosting and the cooking to the professionals. May God have mercy on their souls.

ANYWAY, here is some carnage…..I won’t go into instructional detail, go and learn this shit for yourself, but it basically goes- cut off the jowls, skin them, cut out the inner and outer cheeks, make stock with what remains on the head, make headcheese with the chopped up bits and the stock, rub the jowls down with a spice mixture and cure them in the fridge for guanciale, and braise the cheeks.

Lots of meat in that head! I know, that IS what she said!

 

This will take some serious practice, jowls are one thing but getting the inner and outer cheeks will be pure trial and error.

 

Important note: You must skin your jowls, I think...I plan on it anyway. Because no matter how hard you try, it's tough to get those pigs shaved closely enough.

 

This is what a workspace should look like.

 

Guanciale and braised cheeks-to-be

 

Pork stock...first batch you make is with the whole head, sans jowls and cheeks, and then you recook it with all of the meat for headcheese, and THEN you have this...reduce at will.

 

Chopping the chilled meat that will go into the headcheese.

 

The meat for the headcheese is chopped up and ready for the spice mixture....

 

Then a curry blend was added, along with the hot stock and was portioned out for carryout treats....

 
 Now, anyone who has ever read any of my stuff knows one thing…no matter how normal I sound compared to many of my rants, although I’ve been pretty well behaved here, there is no way I’m letting anything out on the web without “share-proofing” it. I have to address the blessing and the curse of social media as it relates to our food community. I’m totally proud of my town, and I’m not one of those over-protective “as soon as people know about it, it’s not cool anymore” pretentious assholes. That said, the popularity of damn near anything brings with it the “great dumbing down for mass consumption and maximum profitability”.  I’ve got a million examples from Paula Deen and pop-up thermometers on turkey to “street tacos” now available at Taco Bueno and those pans where a red dot appears to let you know the goddamn thing is hot.  But here is a favorite of mine….Greek fucking yogurt.  I guess Greek was just easier to fit on the package than “Hey dumbass, we drained it. It has less water. So between that and the cool marketing we charge you more.  We know your ass isn’t going to go and find some fucking cheesecloth to drain your own…so HA HA HA!”. 

Social media and the millions of food blogs allow whatever is new (or OLD recently made new once again) to be pounced upon with extreme prejudice…it’s not enough to know where your favorite food truck is going to be parked, you have to track it on an app via GPS.  The chocolate Boulevard Beer debacle….fortunes made and reputations tainted within hours.  While I don’t see Local Pig needing security to keep the throngs of Twits in line, I am sure there will soon be specific products that will disappear minutes after they are available.  No harm no foul there, again, I’m not venturing into possessive mode….the whole thing just speaks to the ultra-modern desperation to leverage that 1890’s goodness. We want it to be authentic and artisanal, but we also demand that it be available immediately and in an unlimited supply. 

 Another thing that has fascinated me over the past couple of years, in a town this size dealing with overblown and sometimes unrealistic expectations in regard to foodie hipsterness, is the parasitic relationship between expat foodies and the native malcontents.  I use the term “foodie” negatively here, because I just don’t like it….”foodie” is what someone who doesn’t really know about food has to use to describe themselves in order for everyone to know it’s their thing. It’s like someone with an honorary degree insisting you call them “Dr.”, or the whole “Life Coach” concept…the shit that Napoleonic complexes are made from.  You know, the “maestro” episode of Seinfeld. I like to eat at local restaurants, buy local products and cook like a madman.  If I’m too cool for ANYTHING, it’s calling myself a “foodie”….if you HAVE to put a fucking name on it, then I’d prefer something like “Stud Powercock” or “Consumptive Whore”. 

 So…the expat foodies…those people who have come from much larger metropolitan areas and can never pass up an opportunity to point out why whatever we have that manages to be edible is still not nearly as good as the worst version in the magical land from whence they come.  I’m convinced that these people just couldn’t hack it in the big city, and if we knew the real truth about their foodie exploits in that town it would be like finding out that the alleged former football hero at work who won’t shut up about the good old days was actually the kid who showered in his underwear after riding the bench at every game. Nobody who actually knows anything has to talk that much shit.  If it were not for their parasitic twin, the native foodie malcontent, they may actually shut the fuck up at some point. But no, the malcontents keep them well fed with an inferiority complex that they must assume is shared, or should be, by everyone in this town. EXAMPLE:  Whenever there is an article or online discussion about the availability of vegetarian food in Kansas City the expats will predictably chime in with the usual shit about their hometown, and I can forgive that to a point, it’s the one thing they’ve got.  But those other dicks, who are FROM here are so quick to pile on….and it’s always framed in an incredibly patronizing and self aggrandizing manner….”unfortunately Kansas City isn’t as ENLIGHTENED as the more PROGRESSIVE cities with which I am intimately familiar”.  Yes, intimately familiar. When you consulted your Zagat’s NYC to look up “vegetarian restaurants” before your three day choir trip, there were four pages of listings in Manhattan alone. When you looked up Zagat rated “vegetarian restaurants” in Kansas City, they didn’t even list Fud yet….just Eden Alley and Bluebird Bistro…which sent you into a spiral because the two places listed by Zagat’s weren’t broken out into fifteen subcategories like NYC.  The height of unenlightenment.  Zagat’s, Yelp, and pouting at Outback Steakhouse because you won’t venture two miles from home…that’s your wheelhouse. Even the stupid expat realizes you’re a fucking retard, but you’re the only lackey they’ve got, so they live with it.

 So there you go….Local Pig is opening soon and you need to check it out, and social media is key in turning assholes into major assholes.  I think I’ve got some stuff coming up that may be of interest…as I’m sure I already mentioned I’ll be learning how to make povitica, I’ll go back to some classic religious ranting when I share the tale of the Church At My Grandma’s House, hopefully spring will be here sooner than later, AANNNNNDDD I’m going to buy a meal for anybody who will assist me in doing some site updates here.  Mainly want to get stuff categorized to make it more user friendly, find a better editor than what WordPress gives me, eye-friendly layouts, fonts, that kind of shit….I really don’t get enough traffic to warrant anything major, but if nothing else I need to be more web savvy when it comes to writing/publishing software. AND if that Santorum dipshit gets any more sway he’s going to need his own page on here…..if you’ve been with me for a while you remember 2008…..
 
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All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Charcuterie, Chef Alex Pope, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Local Pig Kanas City, Paradise Locker Meats, Slow Foods Kansas City