Ox & Son
- Stuffed pig trotters w/ asparagus & morels
405 to 10 West to Lincoln + a left. Arrive at Wilshire and Belcampo—Brad’s local butcher shop. Prime is all you get here.
We walk in under the simple red sign and are greeted by a massive blue mosaic tile wall, stretching from side to side of the shop, just over the jewels in the glass case (riblets, ribeye, shank… what a great word).
Brad talks about his childhood, about his father’s butcher shop, with Belcampo’s head butcher, Alex. Like a diamond cutter he uses the sharpest of skills to custom cut meat. After a bit of drooling, a cup of coffee, and seeing Brad’s chest we head for Montana Street…
When did food capture you?
Food has always captured me. I don’t remember the exact moment in my life when I was like my grandmother blah blah blah or whatever people say. It’s always been a part of my life. I have a big family and we’ve always come around the table. The grandma is a big part of it because she always cooked for everybody. My dad’s a butcher. I mean, around 16, 17 I got into researching food. Not cookbooks but things like “The Joy of Cooking” and I didn’t realize it was taking me over until I realized it and said alright, now I need to go to culinary school. Sorry to disappoint, mom and dad [laughing].
But with your dad it wasn’t *too* far fetched, right?
It’s so funny because everybody associates the fact that my dad’s a butcher and I became a chef… but I never saw it that way. I was at the butcher shop but it was just something to do. I never thought “look at this cut of meat, look how beautiful…” I just thought this is how you cut it. It was a job, it was something you did.
And my dad even asked is this really what you want to do? Go to culinary school? He’s a butcher, you know? He said this isn’t fun. This isn’t glamorous. I love it, but it’s not something you want for your children. And at the time when I went to culinary school, back in ’99, 2000 it definitely wasn’t a “thing” to do, it wasn’t popular.
How did you learn to break down an animal so young?
[Laughing] Well, from necessity. My dad said hey, we gotta get this done today. OK. Let’s do it. Alright cut here, cut here, cut here. It’s actually really simple. People think butchery and all those kinds of things are hard but it’s not. Once you learn how to do it once, you’ll know how to do it forever.
If you just think about how similar we are to animals… once you learn once, you can break down anything. Here’s the loins, kinda the same in every animal. Here’s the legs, etcetera. Just have a sharp knife. The right knife, and have a sharp knife. Pig skin is hard to get through.
What was it like working in a butcher shop at fifteen, right?
Well I was there way before fifteen, but when I started working in there for real, I didn’t… love it [laughing]. To me at the time, you want to go out and hang out with your friends. I was playing football at the time. You didn’t think, oh, I really want to get into butchery or hope I can make this my craft one day. You just think about how you need to get all this meat cut up in time so you can get out of there.
But learning how to do things the right way and how to do them fast totally paid off for me later in life. That’s what being a chef is completely about.
I’m a chef who wants to make good food and have fun. That’s it. Plain and simple. I don’t have this diatribe or long winded speech about what I like and don’t like.
And have people enjoyed it?
Yeah, hopefully they enjoy it also. When you become a chef, that’s what you want. It’s like any craft. There’s so many other jobs or ways to make money that are less stressful and have an easier lifestyle, but the reason I chose this is because I enjoy creating food and I have fun doing it. I want to make sure my whole staff and crew is having a blast doing it too.
I see that with you and your guys here. Some places you go in and it’s just a routine. Click click click start to finish.
It’s like I tell my cooks, we can have a blast here, we can have a blast after work together, but when it’s time to crunch we crunch. Heads down, we focus. Put out the best product we can. But I’m not a pan thrower. I’m not a yeller. Sometimes you have to I guess but you can still have fun and enjoy coming to work everyday and put out a phenomenal product without being a jerk.
We read that your last meal would be miso pork belly ramen. Still the case?
Absolutely. Miso pork belly ramen ’til the day I die. Ramen is coming up but it’s always been around, mainly a chef thing around here until about four years ago. Now there’s spots popping up all over and chef’s are doing their version. But santouka ramen at the Mitsuwa market is the best ramen, I think, in LA. It’s old school, porky, delicious. It’s the most phenomenal thing I’ve eaten in my life. It’s complex but simple and I’d eat it ’til the day I die. I get it about once every two weeks.
Favorite tool in the kitchen?
Has to be my little offset spatula. I use it for everything. I use it for garnishing, flipping over a steak, if I have to taste something really quick. If you have hot pans stuck together I’ll push it between them and pop them out. It’s a multi tool and it’s just a baby offset spatula this big [showing the size with his fingers].
I had a cook tell me once I’ve learned so much from you here, but I never realized this little offset spatula is the key to everything and I said yep. It’s always in… well, you’re not supposed to put things in your back pocket but I don’t care. That’s what we do. If I’m on the line we keep it in the sanitizer… but that’s what we do. It’s beautiful.
Do you still believe that fat makes everything better?
Yeah. Fat is flavor. Whether it’s butter, oil, really nice extra virgin olive oil. Natural pork fat. Not everything has to be fattening, though. There’s a part of your tongue and part of your brain that responds to it… it carries the other flavors, it mutes the vinegar, it balances to the salt. This isn’t a TV cooking show where you’re throwing butter in there and everyone is screaming and having a good time. Fat is flavor and it helps other flavors come to the front.
What do you think is the real surprise for the customer eating at Ox & Son?
The real surprise here seems to be that it’s not this big, heavy menu. They think “Ox & Son,” he’s a butcher’s son so it’s going to be meat-heavy… but we have a gluten-free menu. We have a vegetarian menu. We have fresh oysters, uni, mussels, Japanese hamachi. I mean, we have a major balance here, but the name makes some people think they’re going to come here and get a 48 oz. steak, which we don’t even have. We have one steak on the menu.
We have pig cheeks, we have a hangar steak, and a burger. We have chicken fried duck confit. It’s heavier but when you’re done you don’t feel like you’re weighed down. I think people have a misconception about what we’re trying to do. We actually have more fish products than meat, but we have a nice balance of each.
That burger looks good.
I didn’t know there was going to be this resurgence of burgers but I put it on here because I love a restaurant that has a really good burger. I don’t care if it’s a nice place or not, if you have a really good burger I’m there.
And now it’s “a thing,” everybody has a burger on their menu. I thought I’d be cool for a second, but I guess not [laughing]. I guess everybody enjoys a good burger. And we don’t make a penny off of it. It cost so much to make and whatever, but it’s one of those things I wanted to have on the menu so people can still enjoy a really good piece of meat.
People don’t think of burger as a good piece of meat, they think of it as a cheap cut. What we do here is a really good short rib prime chuck. We grind it, we do everything here. A burger patty can be like a prime steak. When you look at it that way, you’ll never look at a burger the same way, especially here.
Is it important to have your product—fish, beef, fruit, vegetables—naturally raised?
It is. This sounds so weird but if you really think about it, when an animal is having a bad life, it’s not as good of a product. Fish, cow, pig, chicken, it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to throw out the word “organic” because it’s just the most misused word ever, but was it a happy animal when it was eating that grass? Or when it was eating that corn? If it was, that’s going to be a great product.
What is a typical family meal here?
In the beginning it was ordering pizzas [laughing], because we didn’t have time for anything else. Our general manager would get everybody Jack in a Box. It sucks to say that, but at first we just didn’t have time. But now we’re getting better. The other day we had the chocolate bacon… bourbon… cake. It was a cake we made with eggs and sausage over it. That’s a little extravagant [laughing]. The other day we did coconut rice with leftover pig cheeks scraps we made into a vadouvan curry and poured it over rice.
Sometimes what I’ll do for the guys is make a bunch of really nice grilled cheese with some of the most expensive cheeses we have. I’m talking grilled cheese I’m flame throwing with 2 year aged white cheddar, raclette cheese in the middle, fig jam, just real quick. Lots of stews.
The other day we had all this salmon belly leftover, which is delicious, so I cured it, made a miso rub and I smoked it in the back and we had cured miso salmon belly over rice with a miso sauce I made. Something I threw together real quick but it gives everybody a chance to sit down and digress for a minute.
Family meals are really important, I think a lot of chefs forget that. You need to take your cooks out of being stressed, sit down, eat, recharge, have a joke or two… then get back into it. It’s like anything else you do for a living, just take 15 minutes out and you realize whatever’s going on isn’t that bad.
That’s cool. So you have a smoker out back back, in the parking lot?
So what we do is… we’re not supposed to, we’re not allowed to have one. See what you’re finding out here? He’s finding out the little things. We’re not allowed to have a smoker, of course, so it’s hidden. But what we do is pull it out, smoke things, then bring it back in and say I don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s illegal.
What’s the greatest highlight of your career?
The two restaurants I opened up. I’ve been doing this for 16,17 years for this right now. This is the greatest highlight, having my own restaurants. With partners, of course, but this is the culmination of what I’ve worked for. To do my own food and have fun doing it. And getting to name a restaurant after my dad, Ox. Nobody gets a chance to do something like that, and especially while my dad is alive and well. He’s butchering meat right now, in Chicago. He’s up right now with a hand in meat. Not to say he’s an old guy, he’s a pretty young dad, for my age.
He’s 56. Yeah, he’s not some old, bitter guy. He’s coming out here in May and we’re going to hang out the whole time. I’m like best friends with my dad, so getting to name it after him was even better.
What’s in your future?
I’m not one of those people that has a five year plan. I don’t like to do that. I’m just always trying to move forward and I think besides opening another restaurant, the future is going to be what it’s always been since I was fifteen years old: learning the next thing and perfecting it.
Learning something new, trying out new dishes, that automatically kicks you into the future without trying. By doing every little thing in your life, trying to be a better human being, trying to make this dish taste better, or do this technique better. When you drive trying to use your blinker. Little things! They make you a better person every day. Trying to be a better boyfriend or a better son, and trying to apply that in the kitchen as well. I just want to be a better person all around.
Stuffed pig trotters with asparagus and morels
- 4 pigs’ back trotters, boned
- 4 oz. carrots, diced
- 4 oz. onions, diced
- 5 fl. oz. dry white wine
- 1 tbsp. port
- 5 fl. oz. veal stock
- 8 oz. calf’s sweetbreads, blanched and chopped
- 3 oz. butter
- 20 fresh morels cleaned and drained
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 chicken breast, skinned and diced
- 1 egg white
- 7 fl. oz. double cream
- 3 oz. asparagus tips
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Place trotters in a casserole with the diced carrots and onions, wine, port and veal stock. Cover and braise in the oven at 325 F for three hours.
- Meanwhile, fry the sweetbreads in 3 oz. butter for five minutes, add the morels, and chopped onion and cook for another five minutes. Leave to cool.
- Puree the chicken breast with the egg white and cream and season with salt and pepper. Mix with the sweetbread mixture to make the stuffing.
- Take the trotters out of the casserole and strain the cooking stock, keeping the stock but discarding the vegetables. Open the trotters out flat and lay each one on a piece of foil. Leave to cool.
- Fill the trotters with the chicken sweetbread morel stuffing and roll tightly in the foil. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours.
- Preheat the oven to 425 F Place the foil-wrapped trotters in a steamer and heat over simmering water, or put them in a casserole or pot of boiling water.
- Saute morels, peas, turnips and asparagus with butter salt and pepper. Place on the plate.
- Transfer the trotters to a serving plate and remove the foil. Place the trotters on the plate with the vegetables around. Pour the reserved stock over the trotters and serve!