J. Ludovico: The Only Island-Grown Chicken Found in Honolulu’s Best Restaurants
Now also available for retail at Kōkua Market, or slaughter one yourself at an upcoming class.
Merriman’s is one of the local fine dining restuarants J. Ludovico provides their chickens to.
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino
“I thought my mind was going to melt,” says Julius Ludovico, when The Pig & The Lady called him out of the blue and asked for 30 chickens a week. “How are we going to do that?!” It wasn’t so long ago when even a weekly order for 12 chickens was unfathomable. And, as Ludovico says, “I didn’t even know what fine dining was. Like Outback Steakhouse?” Today, J. Ludovico Farm delivers 200 to 300 chickens a week to some of O‘ahu’s finest restaurants like MW and Fête.
He raises his chickens in chicken tractors in Waialua—open-bottomed so the birds can peck at grass and bugs, and portable so they can be moved to fresh pasture periodically, all while offering them shade and protection from predators. Ludovico provides them a custom feed that he developed after trials with UH, a feed that a researcher told him would be too inefficient. But Ludovico says it results in a cleaner-tasting chicken. What they eat, though, Ludovico discovered, matters less than how they live. He says, “it’s all about less stress on the birds, not just in their overall health and also the quality of their meat. It doesn’t matter if you have the greatest food or whatever.” So he makes their short lives (somewhere between six and eight weeks) as mellow as possible.
The chickens are a standard industry Cornish cross, bred for how quickly they can put on weight. Ludovico says he’s tried heritage breeds in the past, but found them too expensive for the market. Already, some people balk at his $6/pound birds, about three times the price of imported chicken. “I don’t blame people,” he says. “It’s just economics. And until we started doing this, I didn’t think there was a difference [in taste].” Now, “I’m not trying to be snooty, but I don’t want to eat other chicken anymore.” He processes his chickens at the former Shinsato pig farm facility in Kahalu‘u (he’d like to have a location closer to Waialua or town, where most of his customers are, but it turns out, for all the “keep the country country” and “eat local” campaigns, no one wants a slaughterhouse next to their home), and delivers them the same day to Honolulu restaurants.
Ludovico has been forever tinkering. He was born in Angeles City, Philippines, studied accounting at UH West O‘ahu (“but didn’t finish,” he says), has worked in social work, construction and education. He was the school garden coordinator for the Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation when he first started raising chickens in 2011. Before that, it was pigs, which he fed spent beer grains—for one event, Real a Gastropub paired his pork with beer made from the grains that the pigs were fed on.
SEE ALSO: Real a Gastropub Reopens
This year, Ludovico acquired some land in Kahuku and plans to grow the same variety of rice grown back in the 1900s, along with other specialty crops. Part of it is that he can’t stop exploring. But part of it is also for diversification, the plight of a small farmer. A chef once told Ludovico: “You guys are so hot right now.” Ludovico says, “Man, I wish being hot right now translated into us making more money.”
Want to learn more? J. Ludovico hosts quarterly chicken slaughter classes. The next one is Sept. 21, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Kahalu‘u. $65. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
J. Ludovico chickens are available at Kōkua Market and direct from the farm. For details visit jludovicofarm.com
Don’t miss our best dining event of the year. Tickets for the 2019 Hale ‘Aina Celebration presented by First Hawaiian Bank are limited and on sale now!