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Table Talk: Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43

May 7, 2012
Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 doesn't like typical breakfast foods. (Photo by: Pushett Irby)

Jimmy Carbone knows his way around the kitchen, the greenmarket and especially the East Village. The chef-restauranteur is also community minded: He works with Family Cook Productions and Heritage Radio Network, where he hosts Beer Sessions Radio program, and he’s the force behind Food Karma Projects.

I joined Carbone at Clean Plates-approved Jimmy’s No. 43 for an early afternoon beer and bite (which I won’t call brunch) to discuss that tricky first meal of the day, food labels and what it takes to run a sustainable restaurant.

Q: What did you have for breakfast?
A: I don’t like typical breakfast food; I like soup. This morning I had chicken and rice soup with my daughter at a diner. Most places, it’s sugary pastries or some other processed things. Whatever revolution you have in food hasn’t really hit breakfast.

I’ve never done breakfast at Jimmy’s No. 43. I had to give in so we do brunch, but we try to do things a little differently and we’ve got great biscuits and beer. But it’s not my favorite meal.

Q: Any beer and food pairing tips?
A: Beer pairing is the next big thing. In Belgium, the sour beers go well with a fatty stew. The ultimate is German: Beer is like their wine, every region has different recipes. I find German beer, especially wheat beers, go well with nearly every food.

Q: Do you feel there’s a benefit to organic beer?
A: No, because “organic” is co-opted by corporations. I’d rather see local farmers make the grain or the hops and have a local facility.

New York State has good water, so it’s a great place for beer. The biggest issue is water safety. Upstate fracking could threaten that; as you want pure grapes in wine, you want pure water in beer.

Q: Can you tell us about sourcing the ingredients for your food?
A: Ronnybrook provides our butter, milk, cream and crème fraîche. The Piggery delivers pigs. The traditional Eastern European butcher around the corner makes specialty sausages for us. For vegetables, I still like to get it direct from the farmer.

My friend Patrick Martins from Heritage Foods says, “Either ground meat or sausages would save the world.” Those are the most sustainable because every part of every animal can be used. That was a big thing: wanting grass-fed steak at an affordable price but realizing ground beef was better. At first I didn’t want to do a burger, but people like it. I eat a burger a couple times a week.

Q: Many grass-fed cows are grain-finished. Does it matter?
A: Our beef is grass-fed; I’m not sure how it’s finished. The mission is to support regional farms. It’s about how it’s raised and knowing the farmer. Are they making a good living? Grass-fed separates the small farmer from factory farms. You need land for it; it’s cleaner and safer. You won’t get diseases because they’re living healthy, natural lives and their waste isn’t all in one place.

We need specific labels on meat that say it’s pastured, antibiotic free, what farm it was raised on, where it was slaughtered. It would explain why farmers should get more money for certain products.

Q: What’s it like running source-conscious food events?
A: Though our events aren’t perfect, there’s always a creative solution. Jake Dickson of Dickson’s Farm Stand sells lots of holiday prime cuts and roasts and ends up with extra ground meat in the winter. The last two years he’s donated ground beef for our chili cook-off fundraiser for Food Systems NYC.

We keep digging and learning more. Clean Plates and the Just Food Conference are examples of places that ask questions that help us grow and do the right thing.

Image courtesy of Pushett Irby.

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