Dish Breakdown: The Flats’ Charcuterie Board

by: Jesse Hom-Dawson

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good charcuterie board. But when it’s always prosciutto and salami and liver pâté, the dish can get a little tired. So imagine my surprise when I dined at The Flats in Beverly Hills the other week, ordered a charcuterie board and was presented with a board featuring meats and condiments the likes of which I’d never heard of (root beer-cured guanciale?!). It was an interesting and impressive take on a dish that I didn’t realize needed to be reinvented, until it was. We talked to Chef/owner Kyle Schutte to get an idea of the mind behind the (delicious) madness.

Chef Kyle Schutte of The Flats in Beverly Hills, CA.

The Flats features a lot of different unique dishes, like fried chicken and pink lemonade flatbread, or a deconstructed tiramisu. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get this question a lot and the truth is, who knows. Inspiration—true inspiration—is a random, emotion-evoking spark. You don’t get to choose where or when or how inspiration strikes. If I knew where to go for inspiration, I would never look anywhere else and I would leave a lot of paths unexplored. When I find that spark of a memory or component or smell or feeling or ingredient or experience the rest of the dish comes together from more of a problem-solving approach. I know what I am looking for or I know a flavor or texture or temperature I want to build around and it just takes shape. This process is all intuition.

Honestly, the resulting dish is a sequence of decisions that just felt like the right thing to do at that particular time for that particular dish on that particular menu. But inspiration as the starting point is more of a feeling than an equation. The “unique” result is probably less me trying to be different and more of an internal subconscious rejection of tradition. Replicating something that has been done before just feels wrong.

Charcuterie boards tend to be very standard. What gave you the idea to come up with interesting meats like pho-cured bresaola or root beer-cured guanciale?

Charcuterie boards are awesome. Who doesn’t love sitting and picking at one with a glass of wine and good conversation? When I first started curing meats, I was pretty intimidated. Looking back, using nontraditional cures may have been a bit of a crutch. Maybe if it didn’t come out perfectly, people would still say, “it’s interesting.”  It is my nature to avoid tradition and why would I cure traditional duck breast prosciutto when I can buy it from someone whose been making it for decades? Sauerkraut-cured duck prosciutto though, was interesting to me. When it was done, not only was I pleased with the general quality of the duck, but the sauerkraut brought an unexpected pop to a very commonly offered menu item. The success of this made me start to think about other flavor combinations that not only may work well, but get guests excited too.

The Flats’ charcuterie board.

What is the process for creating these meats? 
So, these cures are involved and probably pretty boring for most people, but if you want to get scientific…
For whole muscle cures like bresaola or guanciale we create a rub (in the case of our bresaola we use a spice mixture that smells like the Vietnamese soup pho), then we mix that rub with salt, sugar and instacure #2 (a sodium nitrate mixture). The muscle is rubbed with the cure mix and held under refrigeration. Each cut goes for a different amount of time, the cuts that cure longer get a second rub. Then they are removed from the cure and they are hung in our curing case. The first stage they go through in the case is a fermentation phase for 24-36 hours. This phase holds them at a higher temperature which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria producing lactic acid, dropping the pH and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.

The next stage is drying. Each day during this stage the temperature raises slightly and the humidity lowers gradually pulling more moisture from the meat. By the end of the drying phase the meat has lost at least 30% of its weight through evaporation. Most of our whole muscle cures actually lose much more. Once the desired amount of moisture has been lost, the meat goes into the final phase of seasoning. During this time temperature is at its lowest. The goal here is to prevent any more moisture loss but allow the meat to develop more flavor. Any time during this phase the meat can be eaten; however, the longer the seasoning, the more developed the flavor.
The salamis are diced and seasoned with cure and spices overnight, then ground and whipped with fat, dextrose and a starter culture that promotes rapid lactic acid bacteria growth. They are then stuffed in casings and hung. From here the process is pretty much the same as the whole muscle cures.

How did you plan the accoutrements that go with these meats, like the mustard ice cream or hibiscus pickled pearl onions?
Long ago I became fatigued with the standard and quite frankly, lazy, accompaniments that accompany the boards. So, before I ever thought of curing my own meat I began reexamining the garnish. What started with pickled fennel stem, roasted on-the-vine-tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs molded into perfect cubes has morphed into some really fun and interesting stuff over the years. Mustard ice cream (yes, ice cream) made its first appearance about four years ago and isn’t going anywhere. It’s mustardy, cold and fun. Perfect for charcuterie. We are currently also doing a spicy cucumber pickle, sort of like a bread and butter, but with Fresno chili and kombu. The cool thing is that each of our cures comes with its own unique garnish too…finnochiona has fennel jam and blood orange pudding, our house spam has hibiscus pickled onions, sauerkraut duck ham has pickled red cabbage and for that pho bresaola we do a house hoisin and fish sauce compressed pearl onions. Really what it’s about is having something fun, engaging and just palate-cleansing enough to get you reset for the next thing. Oh, and the breads! We take yesterday’s house-made baguettes and doughnuts and turn them into the two crackers that adorn the boards.

Any future ideas you’d like to try out for the charcuterie board?
Hell yes! So many…nori lonzino, almond and mint-cured lamb, thai chili duck lardo, truffle-cured marrow… I could go on and on. I’m also excited to try some seafood and vegetal cures!

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