Corey and I are standing in the prep room staring at a large bowl of salt, some mixed spices and a tall pile of pork bellies. We’re about to cure pancetta—that magical salty, peppery, unsmoked alternative to bacon. We learned to make it together a year ago, but after that first time we ended up splitting the curing duty. He’d do it one time, I’d make it the next. Today’s the first day in eleven months that we’re tackling the project together, and it’s leading to some interesting revelations.
The day-to-day menu at Nopa is a collaborative effort by all of the chefs on duty—not any one singular cook. Long-term projects require even more conversation amongst us—any cook who has ever waited weeks for charcuterie to age only to have it turn out poorly can attest to this. For Corey and me, the stakes are even higher. We’ve each individually been making great pancetta for almost a year, so there’s an expectation built in. But whose recipe is best?
Once we start working, it’s immediately evident that we use two different techniques. Corey uses a lot of pepper. I use more juniper and chili. He likes to apply the salt and spices together; I divide the two applications up. So we start discussing why he does it his way and I do it mine, and the result is that both of us re-tool our approach and technique—a compromise. Collaborating in the kitchen leads to better food, smarter ideas, and stronger camaraderie. By combining our years of experience and building on our strong foundation of trust and mutual respect, cooking together ends up being rewarding on every level. As kitchen dynamics continue to evolve, it would seem like there is no other way to create.
Three weeks later, our pancetta is ready. We cook some, and the funky pork smell fills the kitchen. The flavor is familiar and with every bite my pride swells a bit. As it cools on the rack, I have to label it “Not A Snack” to prevent it from being devoured by the staff. This batch, I think, has come out well. Until I taste it with Corey. “Maybe more pepper, less juniper next time?” he asks.