“Choucroute is a local dish that everybody kind of puts their own spin on,” says Eric Joppie, culinary director at Olympia Provisions in Portland, Oregon. “I've seen big pieces of salt pork, big pieces of smoked bacon, everything from different types of sausages to also having whole pieces of hocks and shanks. I've even seen some recipes that contain duck confit or goose fat.”
In other words, according to Eric, choucroute garnie is a flexible, elastic, and ultimately personal dish.
At Olympia Provisions, it's even more personal than most, because here the cooks create nearly every ingredient—from the sauerkraut to the cured meats to the butter for the bread that's served alongside the dish—either in the restaurant itself or at a large facility dubbed the “Meat Plant.” There, employees produce a wide variety of charcuterie for Olympia's several outposts as well as some retail outlets.
Elias Cairo opened Olympia Provisions in 2009 after developing a passion for handcrafted charcuterie during a European culinary apprenticeship. Over the years, he assembled a team to turn that passion into a local empire, including the NW Portland location we visited. It features an open kitchen behind the bar and a refrigerated case displaying all manner of cured meats. Everything seems to be served on wooden boards. It's a rustic, welcoming environment.
Eric grew up in southern Texas, near San Antonio. “Slow-cooking meats is in my DNA,” he says. But after moving to Oregon to cook in a small restaurant in the early 2000s, he was thrilled by the access to fresh, local ingredients, sourced directly from producers who would visit the restaurant.
After a decade in California's wine country, Eric moved back to Oregon and reconnected with Elias, a former neighbor. He started working at Olympia Provisions in 2016, and today he is the culinary director for all the company's operations, from restaurants to retail. It's a big job that takes him in many directions, but he loves getting behind the stove to cook. Choucroute garnie remains one of his favorite things to prepare.
“You can add in any kind of meat that you want. Apples would be good in this, I think. Other root vegetables would be good. Sauerkraut made with kohlrabi.” Eric continues to brainstorm, the ideas flowing like water. “It's a nice dish.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, Olympia temporarily closed some locations for in-person dining, focusing instead on takeout.