Chefs' Picks: Better at the Butcher Shop
By Brad Japhe
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Long before the days of all-in-one supermarket shopping, a trip to the local meat market was a near-daily ritual. You’d know the butcher by name — and the butcher would know your order by heart. But by the end of the 20th century, convenience shopping had diminished the butcher’s prominence in American cuisine. Now, a heightened focus on farm-to-table philosophies, sustainability and nose-to-tail meat preparation has resulted in a new rise in popularity for the butchery profession. Read on to find out where meat-minded industry folks shop for chop.
When you think cutting-edge charcuterie scenes, Utah might not be the first place that comes to mind. But Matt Caputo is working to fix that at Tony Caputo’s, his family-owned market and deli in downtown Salt Lake City. With state-of-the-art cheese-aging rooms at his disposal, Caputo is particular about the quality of the proteins that he pairs with his dairy. He doesn’t have to travel far, as his favorite butcher shop — Beltex Meats — happens to be in his neighborhood.
“It’s so refreshing to have a place where you can walk in and be sure the owner and head butcher is there working the counter,” Caputo says. “Of course, he is sourcing whole animals from our best local farms, so the steaks are off the charts, but I never miss a chance to pick up some head cheese. The stuff is so fresh and well-made that even timid eaters would not take issue. Just don’t tell them what it is.”
With locations in New York and Los Angeles, The Cannibal has become a bi-coastal destination for craft beers and butcher-centric fare, thanks to its selection of pate, sausages and other fine meats. Head Chef Fran Derby relies on local butcher shops for continual inspiration, including one run by two ladies.
“In New York City, I look to Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamaru at April Bloomfield’s White Gold Butcher Shop on the Upper West Side,” he says. “They source amazing product and treat it with respect. The wealth of knowledge and passion they have for meat is inspiring to me as a chef. It’s everything that a neighborhood butcher should be and I’m thankful that I live just a few blocks away.”
For all its culinary majesty, New Orleans was long lacking in stellar butcher shops… until Stephen Stryjewski and Donald Link opened Cochon in the city’s revitalized Warehouse District. “You have to sell yourself to your market, so most of what we do are cured items, Cajun-style, and boudin — we sell a ton of boudin,” Stryjewski says. And though the Southern chef has a love affair with cured meats, he appreciates that this is just one aspect of what a good butcher shop should provide.
He points to education as a hallmark of any good meat purveyor. “By far the gold standard for well-handled, well-sourced, whole-animal butchery is Fleishers in New York. What makes a great butcher is not just knowing how to cut the meat, but having a great knowledge of how to prepare it.”
“A good butcher shop can vary in size and scale, but should always be thoughtful and deliberate in their craft and what they sell,” says John Currence, chef-owner of City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. “I’m loving the rededication to dry-aging. It’s fantastic that you can get a delicious and properly dry-aged piece of meat without going to a restaurant these days.” One of his preferred places to stop when traveling through the meat-lovers’ mecca of Illinois is Publican Quality Meats in Chicago. “What [butcher and owner] Paul Kahan does there is truly remarkable — it’s thoughtful and an incredible experience.”
When he’s back home in Oxford, the chef frequents Neon Pig. It’s just old-school and awesome,” says Currence. “At Neon Pig, they cater to the people of neighborhood. They are a full-service butcher shop — a great one in fact — but they also have a cafe and counter service with one of the best burgers out there, and grocery items for purchase as well.”
Butchers are uniquely positioned to promote sustainability and ethical practices when it comes to meat consumption. Los Angeles-based cleaver and entrepreneur Jered Standing (pictured above) is a prime example. “I got into butchery as a way to make a positive impact in an area I was ethically passionate about — animal welfare in the meat industry,” he says. “I love studying how butchers do things differently in other countries, then trying it myself and introducing it to people here.”
Standing is opening his own butcher shop this summer in Hollywood, with plans to offer pasture-raised meat from small California farms — and he has looked all the way to South Africa for inspiration. “The one butchery I’m most excited about and inspired by is Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants in Cape Town. The owner, Andy Fenner is just doing everything right. I mean everything. I’m basically just modeling my whole life after his right now.”
While Standing plans to bring his sustainably-minded spot to Hollywood in the near future, the city is already blessed with Gwen, Curtis Stone’s hybrid space that brings together a butcher shop, restaurant and bar. Stone stresses the butcher’s ability to envision a final product as a paramount skill set. “A chef-minded butcher shop where the butcher knows how to treat the protein sets a cook up for a good experience,” he explains.
As a singular example, he points to fellow Australian Andrew McConnell, a chef and restaurateur who opened Meatsmith in Melbourne, Australia in 2015. Inspiration is also close at hand in Stone’s adopted home of Los Angeles, where he frequents The Original Farmers Market for stellar dry-aged meats.
Depending on your needs, some cuts are better than others.