How long have you been a butcher and where did you get your start?
Although I grew up around making wine and sausage it was nothing remotely professional, it was simply familial gatherings in the basement. My professional background emanates from predominately a classically trained culinarian turned educator turned USDA plant owner/operator. The butchery came from a sense of meeting budgetary goals as a culinary professional within industry as well professing it as an educator. The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach had three in house Butchers/Butcher department that fabricated 90% of all the hotels protein needs. However, I did not work in that department, simply being exposed to it laid a basic foundation and mindset for me that lasted throughout my career.
As I progressed within hotel/resorts, private clubs and even a guest ranch I fabricated as much in house as feasibly possible, the result in part contributed to a low food cost. Formerly though as a "butcher", I took on the Meatcutting Curriculum in 2003 at Johnson and Wales University Denver. Having being been put in charge as the chair person of the Meat Cutting Curriculum for all four campuses one of my roles was working directly with my colleagues (fellow meat cutting instructors) to ensure what we were practicing/preaching in the classroom was relevant to industry's expectations of a culinary student. From 2005 - 2009 I was the Chef Educational Consultant for the American Lamb Board authoring numerous educational materials, DVD's, publications as well facilitating seminars on both basic fabrication and cooking skills. Lastly, I was the NAMP Meat Buyers Guide 6th Edition Revision Lamb Section Committee Chairperson.
Have you been working with "sustainable" meats the whole time and if not, what precipitated your shift in practices?
Sustainable...depending on how you look at it can mean as well be answered in a variety of ways. At its core though I feel sensible and practical both need to be considered when thinking sustainable. Sustainable must not only apply to the sourcing but as well have practicality within a business model. Over the years as a chef in the 90's it wasn't quite practical nor readily available. As I shifted from industry into education (2000) and in 2003 aligned with the meatcutting class I began to reach out to local producers. I was able to connect the university with several local small micro-ranches as well to be able to introduce and provide locally sourced half carcass and whole animals for the minimum 15 meatcutting classes we ran each year. It turned out to be a very sustainable, sensible and practical practice. Ultimately I was able to replicate what the butcher dept did at the Breakers Hotel. The meatcutting class, although not the primary goal, fulfilled the needs of 95% of all the cold and hot food production class needs. When a meatcutting class did not run, the university had to purchase from outside sources. To conclude, it was an outwardly sustainable practice that was sensible and practical creating a sustainable practice internally.
Having been in education and exposing well over 2300 students just at JWU alone to that from 2003 - 2010 and even now with the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat recreational and professional programs since 2010. Within our own business model at Il Mondo Vecchio, we are extremely mindful of being as sustainable in our practices as possible. With the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat and its host site, Cook St. School of Culinary arts and the new State Certificate and American Culinary Federation Continuing Education Accredited Butchery program, we will collaboratively continue on with that mindset.
I feel confident that our mindful choices continue to be what we as butchers/business owners/chefs contribute to the incremental shifts of sustainability in our professional and personal daily practices.
What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?
That is simple, to sum it up as we said growing up back east: "Whicked Awesome"!
What do you believe is the role butchers in the movement for a sustainable food system and what do you see as the biggest impediment to a truly sustainable meat industry?
I'd mirror my last statement about sustainability and as far as impediment....we are only bound by what we choose NOT to do. The choices we make... as well how we deliver and educate ourselves and our consumers is the only thing I see as being an impediment. In the bigger picture it won't happen overnight but each day, week, month and year we work towards an improvement and a mindset or paradigm shift. The biggest concern and impediment I see and would address is the term "sustainable" itself becoming just another diluted marketing buzz word and instead of a true practice.
What does being a member of Butcher's Guild mean to you?
It is was great growing up in the culinary industry having been a skilled craftsman/tradesman. More recently having continued my professional growth in working towards being an industry leader and expert within the meat industry, I am honored and excited about being a member, especially a charter member of the begining of an organization as such.
Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:
I'm going to cheat and give two....1. I was a Beef Ribeye guy for years and in 2001 shifted to the Flat Iron 1114D Top Blade Steak and 2. sharing Rack or Rib Chops (a bone in ribeye) of American Lamb with my daughter. As far as recipe... Season with Sea Salt, Cracked Black Pepper and Granulated Garlic, grill to mark mooing or baaaahing rare.
Thanks to Mark DeNittis for his insightful response! The charter members of Butcher's Guild reads like a who's who of the meat world, many more introductions are yet to come.