Chef Mitch Arens of Hotel Covington’s Coppin’s has revamped the restaurant’s menu for the new year and placed a specific and intentional focus on reducing waste.
Arens, a Tri-State native, worked at New Orleans’ Cochon Butcher before returning home last year to take the helm of the Northern Kentucky eatery and brought with him that former restaurant’s eco ethos and focus on low-impact food.
“(Cochon Butcher) was very environmentally conscious — we recycled, we composted, we had a full-time forager who worked for the restaurant group that worked with all these local farms. After doing that for five years, you just kind of realize that’s the way things should run in restaurants,” Arens says. “There should be a focus on not sending so much stuff to the trash or, if we are, utilize it or have someone else utilize it or turn it into something else.”
For the new menu, Arens is building relationships with local farms and producers to source everything from lamb, beef and chicken to produce, cheese and ice cream. The goal — specifically with the proteins and plants — is to use the entirety of the items that pass through his kitchen, nose to tail and root to stem. “There’s something you can do with everything on there,” he says.
“We’re getting all these beautiful things from local farms — the turnips, the beets (and) the carrots right now, they all have really nice greens, so I’ve got the turnip greens on one dish; the turnips on another,” he says. “We’ve got our roasted carrot side, in which the carrots themselves are roasted, and we take the carrot tops to make a pesto out of it so you’re eating the whole plant, which is really cool.”
The same goes for the meat. Using the savvy whole-animal skillset learned at Cochon Butcher, Arens is adept at creating modern dishes using atypical cuts of meat — the more unique cuts that other chefs don’t tend to work with.
“People tend to really jump on the pork bellies or the osso buccos or the pork loins — kind of the trophy pieces,” he says. “Same thing with the lamb; everybody wants lamb chops, lamb shoulders to braise.”
A glance at the brand new dinner menu, which goes into effect this week, reveals upscale but still Southern-inspired dishes like lamb neck ragu with farro pilaf and root vegetables or a coppa steak — a pork shoulder and neck muscle Arens says cooks up like “a cross between a pork roast and a pork chop” — with pork and cider reduction. There’s even a cheese dip flight with pimento, benedictine and whipped ricotta, served with crackers from pastry chef Maddy Bernard.
“A lot of these different cuts and things have such a unique flavor or such a bold flavor because they are on the bone or it is the actual greens on the vegetable that still taste like the vegetable,” Arens says.
Because they don’t have the space to butcher and store in house, he’s working with his four big protein providers — Freedom Run Farm, Marksbury Farm, Black Hawk Farms and Sakura Farms — to see what cuts of meat they’re having a hard time moving to make sure that the entire animal is being utilized.
“Freedom Run Farm had a ton of lamb necks they weren’t using, which is one of my favorite cuts of meat — it’s on the bone, there’s all that connective tissue, you cook it slow and low and the flavors are just really intense coming off the bone like that — so we have committed to taking all of their lamb necks so they’re no longer trying to turn that into grind or throw that in the freezer or sit on it and not be able to utilize it,” Arens says. “It’s kind of the same with Marksbury Farm.”
He says Coppin’s is also making its own stocks and utilizing scraps in other ways, like on the charcuterie board, which also features Woodlands Pork whole-muscle cured meat, along with housemade rillettes, jerky, sausage, liver mousse and pickles. Also keep an eye out for new menu additions like entrees for two, including a whole fish “on the half shell,” served with skin and scales on.
“I hope these diners and the people coming in will leave having a better understanding of the utilization of product and the simplicity of a delicious dish,” Arens says.
“(We’re) just cutting down on waste, showing respect for the animals and where they came from and the people that spend their lives dedicated to growing (them).”
Coppin’s Restaurant & Bar is located at Hotel Covington (638 Madison Ave., Covington). For more info, visit hotelcovington.com.