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Ask a Meat Expert: Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois talks meat sourcing, quality and a better dinner

August 1, 2023

Before his time as executive chef of New York City’s barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke, Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois grew up around the dinner table with his family eating biscuits and mayhaw jelly in the heart of Louisiana. That’s where he learned the traditions of southern cooking and the way a good meal can bring people together. Chef Jean-Paul strives to honor and celebrate the traditions of southern cooking through sustainable food ways and new world techniques.

As Chef Jean-Paul plans his next culinary venture, we caught up with him to talk about sourcing high-quality pork and why he believes Prairie Fresh is the ideal pork supplier.

Whats important to you when you think about sourcing pork?

When I think about sourcing pork, it’s important that the whole brand is dedicated to high-quality meat that’s produced with integrity. I’m looking for a brand with quality cuts across the portfolio – from the shoulders to the loins to the ribs – and a focus on the animal being treated in the right way. Whether you’re a chef, a meat buyer or a home cook, you want the best pork produced in an ethical way.

That has to come from a holistic way of thinking, from the farm to the processing plant to how the meat is packaged, and so on — up and down the line. To get a consistent portfolio of high-quality cuts, the pork supplier must excel in all those different parts of the lifecycle, beginning with how pigs are raised and what they eat. When it comes to quality, there’s a direct line from how an animal is raised to what a home cook puts on the plate.

When you talk about consistency, what are you looking for and why is it important?

As a chef in the restaurant world, you want the raw product to be as consistent as possible on many different levels: size, freshness, color, fat content, and ratio of fat to protein. At first sight I’m always looking at fat color — I want the fat to be pearly white. That’s something I look at through the plastic film or packaging. I think to myself: “What are my eyes telling me about this pork? Is there consistency in all the attributes throughout the whole piece of meat?” That is really important, especially when you’re trying to make a business out of this on the other end in the restaurant.

Consistency is also important for meat buyers and grocery chains so they can deliver consistency to their customers. For example, if a customer buys Prairie Fresh USA Prime® and thinks it’s the best pork they’ve ever had – which I bet most people will – they will expect the same quality pork when they go back to the store. You want a supplier who consistently delivers that high quality.

That’s one thing you get with a connected food system like Prairie Fresh. They have so many controls in place to make sure those things are staying consistent from the farm to the dinner table. They’re not contracting out different parts of the product lifecycle to other entities that create differences or variations. Prairie Fresh has overwatch at those critical control points to give meat buyers and ultimately retail customers confidence that they’re buying consistency. Whether you’re a restaurant chef or a consumer, you want a quality ingredient with consistency you can count on.

What other benefits do you get from a pork provider with a connected food system?

A connected food system is important, because when you trust a brand to provide you something that you’re feeding to your family, you want to make sure there’s integrity from start to finish, in all those different parts of that system. Food is not just something that we eat because it tastes good or because it’s nostalgic. It literally nourishes us and nourishes the people we love. When you think about it that way, you want to make sure that a company can stand behind their product, and that’s something I’ve always felt that Prairie Fresh has done. Whether I’m serving it to customers that are paying for a meal, or I’m serving it to my family, I know that with Prairie Fresh, there’s integrity in the process and that they have oversight into their entire connected food system.

Earlier this year, Prairie Fresh launched Prairie Fresh USA Prime, a line of premium pork for restaurant-quality meal experiences at home. Why are you excited about this new option for chefs and consumers?

Chefs and restaurant professionals get a lot of credit for being able to prepare certain pork cuts with expert care. And there’s a lot of truth to that, because we have repetition underneath our belts. When you grill literally thousands of pork chops, there’s a certain expertise you get with experience. But even if you don’t have that expertise and repetition, a great cut of meat can elevate a home cook and help you prepare a higher quality product. Even if you’re not a chef, Prairie Fresh USA Prime is such a high-quality cut of meat, it’s almost like a security blanket. Even if you overcook it a little bit, it will still be really good — it’s still going to be juicy and tender and flavorful. And then a professional chef, or a great home cook, can really lay into all those positive attributes of the meat — the tenderness, color, marbling — and tune that flavor up to turn out something special.

What qualities do you look for in an ideal meat supplier?

Customer service makes a makes a big difference when it comes to having an ideal supplier. That’s why it’s a pretty easy argument for me to make for Prairie Fresh. You can have better pork, at the same or sometimes lower price, that is more consistent, and I actually want to have a business relationship with the people selling it. I was first introduced to Prairie Fresh when I worked in New York, and that’s a very competitive market. But once I switched to Prairie Fresh, I never looked back because of the customer relationships, more consistent high-quality pork, and better outcomes from the smoker.

To learn more, visit prairiefreshway.com.


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David Eaheart, APR