Seth Copeland, 33, is one-third of the ownership team behind Tupelo’s Neon Pig Café. Invitation Tupelo sat down with him to find out why he and his partners are so partial to locally grown ingredients.
Q: How do you describe Neon Pig?
A: I say we’re an old school butcher shop with a seafood market, farmers market, local grocery and craft beer store in house where you can also sit down and have a good meal.
Q: Aside from being a co-owner, you also work as a butcher here?
A: Yeah. Every person in our business is trained on every aspect – bar, register, food prep and meat. There are a few of us who do most of the cuts.
Q: How does that involvement affect your pride in what’s on the plates?
A: Not too many people can say they shook the hand of every person who grew the food that is on the table. Lots of places say “eat local,” but here we live it every step.
Q: How has the “eat local” movement caught on here?
A: At first, it was really the older generation that we saw supporting the whole movement. It must have skipped a generation, because [now] it’s a lot of the younger people who are getting involved and making this a lifestyle choice.
Q: Does local meat really taste different?
A: There is a difference in flavor. The people we deal with don’t coop up their animals with 100 others in a tiny pen and force-feed them. You can taste that. An animal under stress, especially before slaughter, produces a lot of lactic acid from tensing up. That goes into the muscle and affects the tenderness and flavor of the meat.
Q: What cuts of meat can customers get here?
A: Any cut on the menu, you can take home – plus some. Those pigs from [Brown Family Dairy in] Oxford, we sell the loin, cure the belly, make ham and prosciutto, turn the cheek and jowl into guanciale (cured jowl), do pancetta, sausage, cured lardo (fatback) and make bacon. We have every cut of steak you can imagine, plus our smash and bash.
Q: What exactly is smash and bash meat?
A: Smash is coarsely ground scraps from our steaks and bacon. Bash is ground aged brisket.
Q: You mentioned all the cured meat you make here. How long does that take?
A: It depends on the cut. Bacon takes just a couple of weeks to cure, but our prosciutto takes two years. We have to start a new batch every time we break down a pig to keep it on hand.
Q: How do the local products affect the restaurant’s food?
A: There’s a big impact on the recipes. If I gave you a list as long as your arm of local products on those shelves, that would only be half of what’s here. We use all of that to mix up and turn traditional Mississippi food and bar food into something new. That’s half the fun of cooking to go against the norm and make your own thing.
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