In South Carolina, wild boars are so despised by the locals that even fish and wildlife authorities virtually ignore them.
In South Carolina, wild boars are so despised by the locals that even fish and wildlife authorities virtually ignore them.
Credit: Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards

We don't get to Bubsy's place until mid-afternoon, so we're already behind the eight ball. Two of Boyd's dogs had gone missing, and no one felt right leaving with their fate uncertain. Bubsy was pouring browns – bourbon and ginger ale – in brightly colored plastic picnic cups. Farmerie plans to cook every inch of the sow – and, yes, that includes pig's-head terrine with guindilla gribiche, truffle oil, and smoked paprika; black pudding with poached egg, maple-glazed apple, and grilled sourdough; crispy pig ears flavored with mustard, oregano, Tabasco, and moromi miso (a pungent fermented barley miso); and boudin noir. All this will be followed by a pig's liver crème caramel with maple-roasted grapes.

We lumber up the stairs to the back door, deposit the sow on the picnic table on the screen porch, and roll into Bubsy's open kitchen. His wife Debbie has unpacked the boxes of gear and ingredients that Farmerie had shipped ahead, some 80 items, in neat rows; Farmerie's metric scale, a blowtorch and extra fuel, butcher's twine, chinoise, microplane, muslin, pastry piping bags, and other foreign objects now litter her otherwise tidy kitchen.

After a quick, very thorough shower, Farmerie takes charge. He has the same air he had when he killed the boar – all reflex and instinct – only this time his confidence is palpable. Like a diver or a jumper, he checks and rechecks his gear, then begins weighing out ingredients and handing recipes to Bubsy, Debbie, and me, bidding us to follow his lead – expecting it, really. This is the only way to run a kitchen.

"In the kitchen I don't let the guys call me 'chef.' I don't like it," says Farmerie, ingredients flying through his hands into a series of bowls, each for its own dish. "A lot of guys call you 'chef,' figure that's the respect taken care of, and do whatever they please on your line. 'You got it, chef.' That's not how I know I can count on a cook."

A couple of hours later, Bubsy walks into the kitchen. "What on earth is that?" he asks, gesturing to the boar's face oscillating among coarse-cut vegetables in the rolling stockpot on the stove. "I didn't even know we had a pan that big," he says, staring in wonder at the scene.

"I don't think I've ever seen Bubsy even wash a pan in this kitchen," half-jokes Debbie. "When you need him to get working, just tell me, I'll motivate him."

Farmerie's ingredients and the tools he travels with are selected for maximum flexibility. Two hundred pounds of pig to dress and only a 12-inch chef's knife? "This'll do fine." An ingredient gone missing? "Use that stuff instead." And then everything stops for 15 minutes while he meticulously strips meat from the rib of his rack roast.

Working in a restaurant kitchen during dinner service is like working on a submarine that's on fire. It is unbearably hot and cramped, and there is nowhere to hide. Under these conditions Farmerie sends more than 250 meals into his dining room every night. Tomorrow we'll have about 25 guests, which should be manageable, but he is alone. In fact, it's worse than that: Farmerie has me and Bubsy helping him.

He appears calm somehow, even with a dead pig on the picnic table on the porch and less than 23 hours to cook it all.

Of course, he only sleeps two of those hours.

"Manny, how are your knife skills?" asks Farmerie, looking sideways at a pile of produce that should have been diced a few hours ago.

"You wouldn't let me work a second day in your kitchen, but they will do for now."

I have always prided myself on my pro-sumer knife skills, but I am too slow and not nearly precise enough for Farmerie's needs. Within 20 minutes I have retreated to the dishwashing station. No small task. In the next 18 hours I will wash the same 12 pots and pans more than 10 times each. "We do have a dishwasher, you know," teases Debbie.

"Not fast enough, hon," I reply, all business. Just like in the swamp, I was simply trying to measure up. Bubsy is standing next to Ross, both ogling Farmerie like a pair of new med students watching their first surgery as he frenches the ribs of that loin rack roast. "I know you said you were going to use the whole pig, but I guess I didn't think it through," says Bubsy. "How did you learn to do all this?"

"I worked at a couple of places in Britain; one grows most of their own veggies during the summer," Farmerie explains, without looking up from his work, "and we used mostly whole animals, so we utilized every part of it for something. It was common to use kidneys, livers, heads, hearts, hooves. They even have an amazing dish that is a chicken steamed in a pig's bladder. I learned to make blood sausages there, worked at terrine-building," he says, gesturing to the bubbling head on the stovetop. "I broke down whole pigs and cooked more foie gras than I care to remember."

After 12 hours of prep work, we all crash at Bubsy's at around 3 a.m. By late afternoon the next day, the spare ribs and then the pig's-head terrine start flying out of the kitchen onto the back porch. I take the dishes around to club members, who are recalling the hunt. A few polite nods and thin smiles, a halting reach for a little something, a question about condiments. "Just eat it," I command, clapping Boyd on the shoulder. "I take 100 men into a restaurant..."

Boyd offers a broad grin.

The members of the Santee Rod Gun & Guitar Club are leading with their feet, not their faces, on this project. If the first few dishes needed passing, the fourth and fifth need to be cut into fair portions. The club is migrating to the kitchen now, wondering how Farmerie does all this. There's also some jockeying for position when the second round of sausages, draped in absurdly fresh, rich caul fat, are ready. After the six and seventh courses have been wolfed down, Boyd seizes my arm. "You know, coming over, I thought I'd give everything a try – be polite. But, well, I really did enjoy everything."

From the gut bucket to the table: liver for dessert. Farmerie presents this dish with a straight face, as though he doesn't expect anyone to blink.

"What is that flavor?" asks a guest, curious, not appalled. No need to reply just yet.