East Village innkeeper and farm-to-table festival mogul Jimmy Carbone has been kind enough to host the judging for this year’s Charcuterie Masters at his restaurant Jimmy’s No. 43.
The subterranean watering hole, which plays host to a rotating selection of highly curated craft beers and ciders, has quite a history. Some say it was once a Ukrainian speakeasy. One thing is certain, the bricks in the rathskeller-like space’s vaulted ceilings date back to the Civil War.
“We’ve actually had the bricks authenticated,” Carbone said. “It was built in the 1860’s same as McSorley’s.” Carbone, founder of such events as Pig Island and Brisket King, has quite a history himself.
It all started with a quest for a good lunch. Carbone grew up in in the textile mill country of Haverhill, Mass. “There was always hospitality food, family. That was our immigrant culture.” When he came to New York City to study at Columbia he’d never really had to think about what, when or how to eat. “It distracted me for a long time and I ended up kind of hitchhiking around Europe and was basically just focused on having a good lunch every day.”
These days a good lunch for the restaurateur often means a visit to Il Buco Alimentari to enjoy the housemade charcuterie, including lardo two ways: cured and whipped like butter. “They use a lot of Flying Pigs Farm there, it’s one of my favorite things to have for lunch.”
After college, Carbone wound up working at The Coffee Shop in Union Square, and eventually became its wine buyer. “I figured I should learn something about it so I found Kermit Lynch’s book, Adventure on the Wine Route,” Carbone said. “It was a great book. It made me think that someone who’s literate, someone who’s interested in culture would be interested in this field. Until then I just that people were actors who wanted to make money or whatever.”
After taking a sommelier class Carbone started cooking for friends as a way to try different wines. “I got the bug,” he says with a chuckle. “It went from my search for a good lunch to having my own lunch place,” Carbone says of his first restaurant, Mugsy’s Chow Chow.
Starting a restaurant might seem like a lot for a 28-year-old, but Carbone had always had an entrepreneurial side since his teenage years when he had a business selling flowers for Mother’s Day. “I kind of learned everything, I learned how to cook, how to manage,” Carbone says of his time at Mugsy’s. “If I hadn’t found that place i probably wouldn’t have gone further in the industry.”
Carbone closed Mugsy’s in the wake of 9/11 and eventually opened Jimmy’s No. 43 in 2005. When he first opened it the restaurant didn’t have the same farm-to-table ethos that it now embraces. Nonetheless Carbone says, “I was always aware of the Union Square Green Market. I would always buy some things there.” Carbone also liked to shop at J. Baczynsky’s East Village Meat Market. “I wanted to serve something from the neighborhood. There they’re for over 40 years, they have their smoker and bring in whole animals. They make great kielbasas, hams—their own traditional products.”
“Josh Ozersky started doing some bacon tastings here,” Carbone said of the late great food writer and acclaimed carnivore whose bacon rundown included everything from Oscar Meyer and Nueske’s to Benton’s. “He also served Baczynsky’s bacon where they take the whole cut of the ribs all the way through to the fat so you get a cross section so it’s like rib meat and it’s like bacon.”
It was friends in Slow Food New York City that spurred Carbone to transform Jimmy’s No. 43 from a tavern to more of a farm-to-table destination. “They were pushing me to up my game. At the time they were rolling out the Slow Food Snail of Approval. I really wanted to get that.”
Phillip-Kirschen Clark, a top CIA grad who’d been cooking at WD-50 and was moonlighting at Jimmy’s eventually made the shift to full time and helped earn the restaurant that Snail and critical acclaim.
“He was like, ‘I’m going to go to the market and buy everything,” Carbone recalled. “So he was going four times a week to Union Square.That’s what kind of set us on the way then we were really committed to buying from farmers.”
Ozersky heaped much deserved praise upon Kirschen-Clark dubbing him “the secret chef.” The food writer also played a role in the genesis of Carbone’s Pig Island. When Ozersky first started Meatopia the events were backyard affairs. In 2010 Ozersky and Carbone teamed forces for the first public Meatopia at Governor’s Island. “Anything meat related he kind of influenced me, we miss him.”
Carbone had been put in touch with Governor’s Island when it opened up to public events. “It was my first chance to really do a bigger event, and I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Carbone said. It was Ozersky who coined Pig Island, Carbone said with a smile.
“We decided we were just going to buy the pigs from farmers and give them to the chefs and that’s kind of been the whole point of the event,” Carbone said. In the event’s first year Carbone did Violet Hill Farm a good turn by purchasing young pigs for the event. “I realized that there was a need that he wasn’t going to be able to afford to feed those pigs through the winter.”
Last year one of the competitors at Charcuterie Masters 2017—Rodrigo Duarte—took home the grand prize at Pig Island. I'm excited to be hosting the judging for Charcuterie Masters. I want to see guys like Cesare Casella. I hear that he's making his own charcuterie upstate."
Please join us at Charcuterie Masters 2017 on February 25th to find out who’s going to be crowned Grand Champion royalty in Queens (NY)! For event details & to purchase tickets, please visit here.