If you’ve tried one of Drinkingbird executive chef Hector Vergara’s burgers, you know we have something special going on in that department here at The Drinkingbird.
Of course, it’s Vergara’s hard work in the kitchen that makes this happen day in and day out, but he’s helped along in his task by using quality, dry-aged Angus beef from CDK Angus, a small family farm in northwest Illinois owned and operated by Chad Bicker.
Filling A Need For Quality Beef
CDK Angus is part of a new breed of farm that’s sprung up with the green and organic movement that hit the Chicago restaurant world hot and heavy around 2000–and the movement has done nothing but accelerate sense and it’s Chicago’s desire for quality product that has given an edge of sustainability to small farms like CDK Angus. It’s all about quality product.
“We started selling beef to restaurants and want our clients to be able to count on its quality–always,” says Bicker. “We want to supply quality beef and we’ve grown slowly on purpose, so that our brand is synonymous with quality. We want to grow with our clients.
Part of being a small-time beef farmer working with city chefs is quality. “I chose Angus for the quality of the beef,” says Bicker. “The quality of the marbling can’t be beat.” But it also takes spending some time with clients, which Bicker does at semi-regular client events. “They’re important, I get to mingle with customers and I like to hear stories about what people do in the big city and they want to understand what small town farmer Chad Bicker does,” he says. “A lot of people like to come out and see the farm. We’ll have a cookout and show them around. It’s a good atmosphere to see people happy and enjoying my product.
“When someone loves our steak, or a burger made from our beef, it’s satisfaction for me and the family for all the work we put in. It makes things worthwhile.”
He also gets to see what chefs are up to, how they’re using his product, and it “just boggles my mind,” says Bicker. “They talk and it blows my mind. I do salt and pepper. It’s two different worlds and it’s amazing.”
Bicker and his family put their efforts into raising animals, but there is more to the process. Their beef is dry aged at the butcher for three weeks, then comes straight to Chicago. “I’m not that familiar with the processing,” says Bicker. “I just know how to spend time with and grow the product, make sure it’s fed and does what it’s supposed to do. I can walk out there and know each animal and their different personalities.”
Anybody who’s worked cattle knows it’s much harder than he’s letting on. It’s a job that requires constant care and supervision in all kinds of weather, knows no set hours, and vacation might mean working on a tractor in the shop because it’s raining–then getting back to work.
Still, you have to look to the future: “What’s coming down the pike is we’ve been able to expand our cattle operation,” says Bicker. “We have a couple more pastures coming online and are looking at other opportunities down the road to grow and expand in a slow, measured way.”
Rooted In Family Farming
Growing up, Bicker spent a lot of time with his Grandpa, who farmed in Freeport, Ill. “I’d finish up school and go help him and then when I finished school, I bought a farm that worked well for cattle and wanted the same atmosphere for my family that he gave me,” says Bicker, who actually went to school to be a history teacher, but ended up in management and farming. “My dream is to retire to farming full-time to watch my kids grow up.
“Eventually, when my grandkids come, I want to be around. I’m working to build the farm and any money that’s made is re-invested into the farm,” continues Bicker, who’s been on his current piece of ground since 2004 and just added more pasture land this year. “My boy yells ‘Tractor!’ and you can’t keep him off it. It’s a blast seeing him follow in my footsteps. I remember being a kid, falling asleep in the cab of the tractor with my Grandpa and waking up in bed. So, when I see my son doing the same thing, I smile from ear to ear.”
And it’s still a family affair: “My Mom, Grandpa & Grandma are all involved,” says Bicker. “My family tends to work and bond through doing stuff on the farm. One day we might have a disagreement, then laugh and go home and have a nice cooked meal as a family.”
One quick, final note: though farming is a family tradition for Bicker, he did set out on his own path when he decided to raise cattle. “Grandpa had hogs. I just wanted to go out and do my thing,” he says. “I showed cattle as a kid at the fair and memories like that, and camping out and selling sweet corn alongside the road was a very special time in my life.
“If the kids grow up and want to be a part of the farm, that’s great. Or, if they want to live in Chicago, that’s great. This is what I enjoy in life and I want them to find out what they enjoy in life for themselves.”
For our part, these days, we’re enjoying the heck out of the beef we’re getting from CDK Angus and hope you are, too. Come by and try our regular burger or our Burger of the Month anytime and we think you’ll see what we mean.