We partnered with Karen Mordechai, the founder of the communal cooking school Sunday Suppers, and her culinary community to host a spirited Friendsgiving dinner in her Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio. Guests feasted on a rustic menu featuring recipes from Karen’s new book, including a truffled turkey, luxurious mashed potatoes and a pumpkin creme brulee served family-style. Read more interviews with the guests and get the recipes here.
New York City-based Josh Ott is the owner of Hamlet Meats, a farm-to-door meat delivery service that sells shares of pasture-raised, ethically-raised animals to the local community. Read on for the Hamlet Meats story, Josh’s food philosophy and his favorite Thanksgiving rituals.
Tell us about your background. What is the Hamlet Meats story?
I grew up in Suburban Maryland in a big family. From there I went to Boston College, where I played football and dedicated much of my life to my teammates and my performance on the field. After college I spent a few years playing football in Italy, and then landed here in New York City. Like most of us growing up in suburban / urban America in the 80s and 90s, I never thought twice about the source of my food, and what may or may not be hazardous in the process of getting that food from the farm to my plate. But my time in NYC has recently made me more health conscious. In my adult life, friends introduced me to hunting. Missing the football field, I loved the camaraderie, the strategy, and the glory in tangible success. The element I didn’t expect to be as rewarding, which ultimately became the most life changing, was bringing home my victories to prepare for friends. Being raised in a big family, I love a dinner table filled with great food and wine. I now show love to my New York City family through dinners, and carefully choose the game I prepare based on the personality and preferences of my diners.
As a 33-year-old African American male living in the heart of Harlem a universe was quickly unlocked: I needed to know where my food was coming from. I needed to know that it has eaten in its natural habitat for its entire life. And I needed to know it hadn’t been sprayed, injected, or tortured. As I became more passionate about this, and shared more and more meals with friends, I realized my immediate community was interested in having the same connection with their food, even if they weren’t looking to spend weekends in the backcountry hunting. As my love for the sport and the outdoors grew, I supplemented my own game with kosher-killed, grass-fed beef from my best friend’s farm in Southern Maryland. I spent a lot of my childhood on this farm, so I knew firsthand that these animals spent their days in gorgeous green pastures overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, before they were humanely slaughtered and packaged as food.
And so, Hamlet Meat was born. Hamlets are a protected community within a larger community. After spending a lot of time upstate looking at farmland, camping, and hunting, I was constantly impressed by these small sheltered communities—a concept that was completely new to me. Sharing more wholesome, more conscious, more connected nourishment with friends and family in a sea of questionable, unidentifiable, and mishandled goods was beyond rewarding. This new passion has allowed me to show people love and care in a way I felt was protective — contributing to their wellbeing. I hope that as Hamlet Meats grows, it proves to be a resource and haven for others. A community within a community, where my buyers know that each farm is handpicked for the care they give their animals, the attention they pay to the animals’ diets, and the manner in which they kill them.
I started Hamlet three years ago, buying one steer from the farm and giving much of that animal away to friends who were interested. Year two I sold shares of two steers at cost to the people who were interested. Year three I purchased 4 animals and started the business by selling those animals for profit, and they sold out relatively quickly. Today I am close to 8 beef, 6 lambs, and 1 pig in one year.
What is your food and cooking philosophy?
Know what your food has been fed before you eat it.
Do you cook and entertain at home? If so, how would describe your entertaining style?
Yes. I’d say it’s casual, family-oriented, rustic, hunter-gatherer style.
How did you become involved with Sunday Suppers?
My fiancé is friends with Karen.
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving rituals? What are your favorite things to eat/cook during the holiday?
Every year I start the holiday with a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning with my family, and then we spend the rest of the day cooking and enjoying all that God has thankfully given…I usually go straight from the stuffing to the pumpkin pie.
Have you ever hosted or been to a Friendsgiving? What are the elements that make a memorable gathering?
I haven’t hosted one yet, but when I do it will be filled with game animals and local autumn veggies.
What are your best meat-cooking tips?
Everyone’s cookware and heat is different, so invest in a great meat thermometer and use it religiously to cook meat at proper temperatures.
What are a few of your favorite ways to enjoy meat?
I enjoy it most when it comes with a good, long story about how it arrived on my table.
You can have anyone in the world at your dinner table—who would you pick?
My handpicked dinner table would be Steven Rinella, my fiancé, Alan Page, both of my grandmothers who have passed, and Amy Poehler.
What’s for dinner tonight?
Wyoming wild elk meat that I hunted this month and Corbin Hill Farm CSA veggies.