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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

April 7, 2009 at 12:34 PM

Approval times two: the writer (Kauffman), the chef (Claycamp), that pig (Hector)

There are few food writers I’d rather read than Seattle Weekly’s Jonathan Kauffman — whose website reportage titled, “What I Saw, and Ate, at the Pig `Sacrifice‘” — in which he meets and eats a pig named Hector — won him a 2009 International Association of Culinary Professionals Bert Greene Award for journalism Saturday at the IACP conference in Denver.

Seattle Weekly’s Maggie Savarino Dutton accepted the award for her colleague, who was in Korea, presumably eating dwae-jee-bulgogi and gam-ja-gun-gol — as well as other dishes he might not be able to find in strip malls stretching from Federal Way to Lynnwood. (I greatly look forward to reading about that in another award-winning piece of gustatory journalism, no doubt forthcoming from the talented Mr. K.)

If you’ve yet to read Kauffman’s story starring the intrepid reporter, the aforementioned Hector and that polarizing figure, chef Gabe Claycamp, I urge you to make haste and read this right now. Then get back here for more on the subject, because when it comes to Gabe Claycamp and pigs, the story (Culinary Communion closing! The Swinery to somehow magically remain in business! Busted for selling unauthorized pork-products!) is apparently never over:

As for the latest installment in this dramatic tale of oh!: In an email sent to a handful of food-scribes this week, Gabe provided a good-news bad-news scenario, citing his “good news” first: Public Health — Seattle & King County has granted him legal license to sell his bacon, “Period. 100% legal. No exceptions.”

Early specimen: pre-Swinery prosciutto curing at Culinary Communion, May, 2008

His news came with a caveat for “any haters” — and there are many — who might question the legality of his meat-curing operation. He suggests those naysayers “call Larry Smith to verify this” — offering the cellphone number for the health department’s compliance-officer, and punctuates that sentence with (and I quote) “YAY!!!!!!!!”

His “bad news”? “Because of all the stairwell drama [read the dramatic details here], we have lost our lease and will be for sure out of the building by the end of the month.” The building he’s referring to, if you haven’t been paying attention because this whole affair has gotten so squirrelly, is Culinary Communion House on Beacon Hill, seen below in happier times:

Gabe’s email continues: “Lunch Counter is closed. Swinery will be closed, for at least a while (while we look for a new home, which may or may not be in this state),” and he notes he has “24 days to make and sell some bacon.” At which point he urges me and my food-writing colleagues to “please forward this on to EVERYBODY” — noting prices for fresh sausages, bacon burgers and (you read it here!) his version of Bacon Explosion.

Trying my best not to roll my eyes till they disappeared in the back of my head, I did as he suggested and called health department official Larry Smith to see if, in fact, Gabe’s working in good standing with the Powers That Be. Smith explained that his job as compliance officer means he inspects meat and seafood markets, grocery stores and some restaurants to make certain they’re complying with health department standards. But as “one of the people” who worked on Gabe’s permit, he was befuddled as to why his name and cellphone number would appear on an email sent to food media. At which point I called health department spokesman James Apa.

According to Apa, Gabe applied for and recently completed his HACCP plan (that’s Gov-speak for “hazard analysis and critical control point”), with a variance for bacon. And as Gabe stated, his permit to sell his bacon has been approved. He now has King County’s permission to sell bacon, says Apa, but: “The condition of being able to have this HACCP assumes you’ve got a permit for your establishment.” Which, in this case would be Culinary Communion House. And (a resounding “oy!” from here at Nancy Leson Central) here comes the squirrelly part, again:

Culinary Communion’s annual permit ran from April 1, 2008 till March 31, 2009, which is to say that while Gabe has been approved for bacon-making, his permit to run a restaurant/food establishment out of Culinary Communion has expired (though granted, his check, for $736, may well be in the mail). A 10 percent late fee will be assessed after April 10. “There’s a process in place for renewal of permit fees,” Apa says. “Immediate closure of the facility is not part of the process, so if Mr. Claycamp choses to sell bacon during April, he may, but he still has obligations as an operating facility to pay a permit fee.”

Further, says Apa, “He indicated in a message to us last week that he was not proceeding with a planned review process for the Swinery, or doing work in King County,” and his fee for the farmers market application and has been refunded. If this is a bit difficult to follow (believe me, you’re not alone), bottom line, says Apa: “The approved variance is dated from March 31, 2009, so any product made after that date may be sold.” That “product,” he explains, “is cured bacon and only cured bacon. We’ve not approved a plan to sell other cured meats.”

OK, I am now officially closing the All You Can Eat chapter on Culinary Communion, so consider this my last post on the explosive subject of Gabe Claycamp and his pig products. Adios and good luck, says me. And Jonathan? Way to go, bro!

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