Chef Jesse Vallins of Maple Leaf Tavern is considered to be one of the premiere sausage makers in Toronto. As part of our upcoming Feast On(tario) dinner on June 22nd, the Sausage King will be preparing a trio of unique sausages using Ontario farm raised beef by VG Meats. We caught up with chef Jesse and Kevin Van Gronengin of VG Meats to learn a little about what makes for the perfect links.
A little background on yourself. What made you become a chef and how you’ve gotten to this point in your career?
Chef Jesse I was born and raised in Scarborough. My family loved eating well and my mom was, and still is, a great cook. I always loved going to restaurants of all kinds and everything about the whole experience. When I was in my late teens, I realized I fell asleep every night and woke up every morning thinking about food, so I decided to pursue it as a career. I went to George Brown right out if high school and started working in restaurants at the same time. I’ve never looked back. I’ve gotten to where I am today through a lot of study, work, and dedication. Work ethic, devotion to craft, and a sense of hospitality will get you more or less anywhere you want to go in this industry.
Some people have dubbed you “the sausage king”, what spurred your love for sausages?
Chef Jesse I started making sausages while working as the assistant butcher at the CN Tower early in my career and realized I had a knack for it. I’d love to have a more romantic story about killing pigs in the back yard with my grandfather or rinsing out casings and grinding meat in the basement with my mom, but I don’t. I continued to make sausages at other restaurants because I enjoyed it and kept getting better at what I was doing. I also read two books on the subject that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to make sausage – Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn, and Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli.
What cuts do you recommend for making sausages?
Kevin for making sausage I would not recommend one cut over another but it is fun to try different cuts to see the differences in flavour and texture if any. Of course, there are cuts that are leaner than others or that might offer more of the collagen type proteins better for achieving different desired outcomes.
Can you give us a few tips to making great sausages?
Chef Jesse There are three guidelines I follow:
1- proper seasoning
2- proper fat ratio
3- keeping the mix cold at all times.
If you keep to those rules, you can make a great sausage with simply meat, salt, and fat. From there, you can look at your sausage mix as a blank canvas and add whatever flavours you like.
What’s your favourite type of sausage?
Kevin I don’t have a favourite but a good sausage has a few parts to it, the proper seasoning, not too much or too little and the moisture needs to be right. If the moisture isn’t bound properly to the protein when you bite into it you will get the initial rush of moisture then it will seem to be dry. I also like a casing that has a bit of a snap when you bite into it.
Chef Jesse The cheap breakfast links you get with breakfast at diners
Will the type of cut or the feed of the cattle change the flavour of a sausage?
Kevin The feeding program that the cattle are on definitely have an impact on flavour. At VG we we work with 70 different farmers that supply the program. It gives us the ability to try and identify what feed program is working best in which scenarios. They’re all a bit unique.
Tell us about the sausages you’re making for the upcoming dinner and what makes them special/unique?
Chef Jesse We’re making a few different sausages for the dinner and I think they’re all going to be great. A Cheddar Smokey with jalapeno, made using brisket, a classic cut used for smoking and BBQ; A sausage with the flavours of French Onion Soup, sausage made using the shank, something that would be used in a long simmered, rich beef stock for the same dish; and a spicy Vindaloo flavoured sausage using the shoulder, a cut often utilized for braising. They’ll all have different flavours from the different seasonings, but they’ll also all have a slightly different character due to the individuality of the specific cuts we’re using for each sausage.
Tickets for the Feast On(tario) dinner are now available HERE!