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Five Questions With Chef Howard Hanna

Five Questions With Chef Howard Hanna

Five Questions With Chef Howard Hanna 
Howard Hanna, owner and James Beard-nominated chef at The Rieger in Kansas City is known for doing amazing things with pork. He’s also known for beautifully embracing Midwestern ingredients — even the not-so-perfect ones. Here, for our inaugural Five Questions feature, Hanna gets real about sustainability… and ham.

 


1. What does “sustainability” mean to you?  
Sustainability is a goal that I’m always trying to move closer to. It’s great to buy from local farmers, and to cook with the seasons, but I am really trying to go deeper with it.  Not just buying from farmers, but buying the things that help them the most. Trying to cook with cover crops, so that they can have another income stream while improving their soil. Not just using pastured pork, but trying to use the underutilized cuts that are hardest for them to sell. 


2. What’s your all-time favorite ingredient? 
Probably eggs. To me an egg is a perfect food. Eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients that have incredible properties that allow us to use them in so many ways, but also they can be cooked and served very simply — and they don’t need much help to be delicious.  


3. If you could have a farm anywhere in the world, where would it be? 
In the heartland here in the midwest. We have great farmland, and great agricultural traditions. Other places might be easier, but our terroir supports an abundance of crops and great biodiversity that make it a unique and rewarding area to farm in.


4. What is the most underrated food right now? 
Ham. One third of a hog’s carcass weight is the hams, but we don’t eat them fast enough to keep up with more sought after cuts. People still enjoy the tender cuts from eating “high on the hog”—and bellies, ribs, and shoulder are on menus everywhere—but farmers can’t get a very good price for hams because there isn’t enough demand for them. There are great applications for fresh hams, but obviously, the traditions of curing, smoking, and aging hams have produced some of the world’s culinary treasures like Jamon Iberico de Bellota, Prosciutto de Parma—beautiful country hams from right here in Missouri and around the US, and the city hams that are so popular in delis.  


5. If you could change one thing about our food system, what would it be? 
I would want there to be more mid-sized local and regional processors. There are plenty of great small producers and chefs that drive a demand for their products, but it’s hard for the producers to get their products to market because of their extremely limited choices of slaughterhouses, mills, etc. Most processing plants are geared toward “Big Ag,” and are not interested in milling somebody’s small crop of organic heirloom farro, or processing their heritage breed rabbits or poultry.