Dickson Farmstand New York, New York
Gaetano Arnone found butchery at his family's restaurant in Orange, California as a way to save money when his father took ill and he found himself running a restaurant. After studying under the guidance of Master Butcher Dario Cecchini in Tuscany, Gaetano returned to the states and is now the butcher at Dickson Farmstand in New York City, where he continues his goal of communicating to butchers and carnivores the traditions and craft that he has come to respect and love. ----BG Co-founder Tia Harrison
How long have you been a butcher and where did you get your start? Have you been working with "sustainable" meats the whole time and if not, what precipitated your shift in practices?
I began butchering at my father's restaurant about 6 years ago after he took ill and we had to save money. I went to a market I worked at in high school where I remembered seeing whole animals in the walk-in and being frightened. I asked if I could come in on my off hours and learn. When I arrived I saw the walk-in this time nearly empty with only boxes of bagged meat on shelves. The older butchers had all since retired and there was no one to show me how to break down the animals I was working with. I was truly cutting blind for some time. Figuring it out as I went along. I hand no other choice.
After seeking out the help of other great chefs and butchers, first with Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats in San Francisco and then in Tuscany with my Maestro Dario Cecchini, I saw what good and sustainable meat was. After that there was no turning back and I could only work with meat that I felt was raised in the best possible methods and traditions, both for the animal and the farmer.
What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?
Any attention to traditional butchery in my humble opinion is good as long as it promotes the connection between the butcher and the consumer. There are times when I'm approached to show someone or a group of people how to cut and it's a bit of a dance to see if they're really interested in what it is we do and want to learn where their food comes from, or if they just want a picture of themselves holding a pig head. Granted it's a cool picture but that's not why I got into this work.
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?
Education. The majority of my customers truly do want to know where the food they eat comes from. Butchers work as a conduit to the farmers who, like me, are friends to animals. It's our job to not only educate them on the providence of the animal but also to work with them and their skill set to make sure that the positive experience they have in the shop is continued through the cooking process and eventually to when the meat hits the table. As Dario says, "That animal already died once. Now make sure they don't go home and kill it again."
The biggest impediment I see, again, is education. Once the consumer begins to know what good meat is and how to make it a part of their lifestyle, the producers will have to give the people what they want. If almost everyone can find a way to buy an iphone because they want one, than we just need to let them know how much they'll love good, humanly raised, sustainable meat.
What does being a member of The Butcher's Guild mean to you?
I remember that first whole pig I had delivered to my family's restaurant and how lost I felt. I still think about that pig and hope one day in the great beyond I can apologize for the poor job I did. After that day I knew I needed help and wasn't sure where to go. I know there are others out there like me that are looking for help and The Butcher's Guild is that resource. I see the names on the list of charter members and I'm humbled and honored to be involved.
Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:
It changes from time to time but right now it's the Tagliata. It's an Italian cut that translates to "The Cut". I like to cut mine from the peeled knuckle into about an 8 oz. rectangle. Then very simply rub the meat with a nice Tuscan olive oil that has a grassy note to it and season with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt. Give it a quick sear on each side for just a minute or so for color, then put it into a 400 degree oven for only about 6-8 minutes. Let rest, cut into strips, and drizzle with the same olive oil and salt.
It's a simple cut, inexpensive, and easy enough for most apartment living New Yorkers to cook without a grill. It's the perfect beginner steak and opens the door that friendship and trust between the butcher and the customer.