Mark Twain famously said, “Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made.” Mark Twain must have never watched “Meat Man Macri” cook. Meet Nick Macri, executive chef of Southwark Restaurant in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. Chef Macri is one of the top authorities in Philadelphia on all things meat: charcuterie, sausages, pates, exotic meats and fish and more. I first met Chef Macri at one of Audrey Claire’s COOK “classes” a couple years ago. Approximately a dozen and a half food lovers gathered around an intimate, modern kitchen off of Rittenhouse Square, with Chef Macri cooking, educating and serving up delicacies. It was one of the most amazing feasts ever. Course after course of homemade meat specialties: duck prosciutto, pates, salamis, mortadella. There was even meat in our dessert. It was gluttony at its best. An elder gentleman seated next to me summed up the night when, in between bites, he sarcastically moaned, “My cardiologist is going to kill me.” He then continued eating with a big smile on his face. Many Philadelphia beer lovers have enjoyed Chef Macri’s talents at Fair Food’s annual Brewer’s Plate, where we linked up with him again this past March, and at other local food festivals and tastings. Chef Macri recently won Brewery Ommegang’s prestigious 2013 Philadelphia Hop Chef award for his “You Can Win Friends with Meat Salad,” an ode to Homer Simpson, which consisted of housemade coppa with ginger pickled chiles, ballpark nuts and an orange and coriander sauce. We recently caught up with Chef Macri at Southwark, a welcoming corner bar/restaurant with an old-fashioned vibe. We dined on cured fluke, celery-seed salami, pork & fennel terrine and roast beef tongue with asparagus, fresh mint, hard boiled egg and hot sauce and shared some “meaty” (Chocolate Covered) Memories …
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
My mother cooked for a living. So I would get brought along on days off from school and had to help her out. I use the term “help” loosely because I am assuming I was more of a distraction than anything else. Also, those chores involved food: watering plants in the yard during the summer, picking herbs for dinner, helping make sauce and wine in the fall and salamis in the winter. Again, I had more of a focus on playing soccer than I did on any of that stuff. So a helping hand was a pretty forced action.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
Sneaking into the fridge for after-dinner snacks. I would eat cold pasta and cutlets right out the fridge at like five years old. Or eating sliced up hot dogs with fried potatoes and peppers.
Where does your love of food stem from?
I guess my upbringing. We always ate well, out of habit. I guess it’s just something my family knew how to do.
What was your favorite food growing up and what foods remind you of childhood?
For me to pin it down to just one would be near impossible. I was fortunate enough to grow up around food. My parents are both Italian immigrants and brought a lot of their food traditions with them. We pickled, roasted and jarred our own veggies from our small garden. Father made his own wine — it was/is so horrible that I only started drinking wine recently because I thought all wine was like his — and salumi — which was delicious, and you know what came from that. My mother can make some of the best pasta I’ve had and is an excellent baker. So holidays were filled with trays of gnocchi, cannelloni and cookies for days. So to sum it up, my childhood eating was a blur of deliciousness. [NOTE: This one answer was original published here as part of CCM‘s 2013 Brewer’s Plate recap.]
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
We had a cherry tree growing up and so did our neighbor. Summer afternoons eating off the tree was a common occurrence, along with spitting seeds at my sisters. To up the gross factor, I tried to turn it into a snot rocket, and you can imagine what happened when the next mission aborted and the pit never came out. It hurt like hell, from what I remember. I guess I deserved it.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any foods you couldn’t stand growing up? Have you overcome those childhood fears or do they still remain to this day? Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
I hated the smell of tripe cooking. It was such a turn off, and it would take all day to cook. So it just lingered in the basement. (We had two kitchens in our house — one for regular stuff and one in the basement for stuff that either made a mess or maybe didn’t have the best aroma, like frying fish or boiling tripe.) I eat tripe now, so I got over it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of fish either, for probably the same reason. As for right now, I eat almost anything with the exception of a few vegetables/greens that I think taste like dirt.
Any childhood cooking accidents/injuries in the kitchen? Any as an adult?
See cherry stone episode. When I was a stage [cooking intern] at this place called Canoe in Toronto, I had pretty much three jobs: puree and strain soup (not make it), pick herbs and scrape marrow bones so they were white with no bits of meat when they came out the oven. I tried really hard to get some tissue off one bone that had a crevice in it, and my knife slipped and pretty much went through my palm. It swelled up like a balloon and didn’t stop bleeding for almost a day.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside? Did you enjoy eating outside anywhere in particular? How about now as an adult in Philly? Any benches you love to eat on?
In the summer, we ate in our backyard a lot, and the town’s parents from Italy had a social club in Toronto and would have a giant picnic every year with a pig and lamb roast, which were always fun. Also, summer meant watermelon and tomatoes at our house. My sisters and I would have seed-spitting contested with the melons. And the tomatoes, I would eat them off the vine, cut in half, sprinkled with a bit of salt and that’s it. As for outside eating now, when the weather permits, my wife and I try to eat outside as much as possible because, most likely, we are with our dog Giada — a 120-plus pound Italian mastiff. She is pretty spoiled, so she goes where we go. I feel like most Philly restaurants are super accommodating for people with pets, which I think is pretty awesome. And honestly, if you don’t like my dog, there probably isn’t something right with you.
What do you think of the modern food world (from Whole Foods to franchises like Olive Garden, from the Food Network to Groupon, from Yelp to foodie bloggers)?
Modern food world? That’s a big space to cover. Overall, I think it’s good. People are free to do what they want. If you’re trying to make an honest living selling crackers, you know what, sell the fucking crackers and more power to you. But be sincere about it. If you want to sell the crackers or sausage or pizza or noodles, do it because you want to, not because you feel like you need to stay ahead of the curve.
What family recipes do you want to share with us?
Enjoy my summer tomato “recipe.”
Nick Macri is the executive chef at Southwark Restaurant in Queen Village, Philadelphia. Chef Macri recently won Brewery Ommegang’s prestigious 2013 Philadelphia Hop Chef award for his “You Can Win Friends with Meat Salad,” an ode to Homer Simpson, which consisted of housemade coppa with ginger pickled chiles, ballpark nuts and an orange and coriander sauce. Chef Macri will represent Philadelphia in a cook-off at Brewery Ommegang’s annual “Belgium Comes to Cooperstown” weekend in August of 2013. For more information on Southwark and Chef Macri, follow @Southwark215 and @Meat_Man_Macri on Twitter.