Doin' It Like Dario

This wasn’t my first gig in the restaurant industry so I acclimated rather quickly at Officina Della Bistecca, Dario Cecchini’s famed steakhouse. By the end of the second week, I had the system down.  My days were filled with serving patrons, flippin’ burgers, or washing what seemed to be an endless pit of plates, wine glasses, and silverware. On a good day, I would make money in tips. Most of the time, that meant two or three Euros, but sometimes we would have gracious patrons and I would stroll home with fifteen Euros in my pocket and be happier than a blind squirrel who had just found an acorn. With a room and meals provided by Dario, I was living pretty cheap in Italy.  Life was good.

One morning as I made my way through the macelleria to the restaurant, Riccardo stopped me. That day, he was top dog and manning the butcher counter since Dario was in Chicago for a culinary television gig.

My friend, today, you do the presentation at Officina like Dario.

Then he added,

In Italian.

This was an extraordinary honor. During every service at Officina Della Bistecca, Dario announces his presence with a series of blasts from his brass, Italian horn. This is the cue for all the employees to parade out of the kitchen and assume their place behind the main presentation table. With two huge porterhouses elevated above his head, Dario welcomes his guests and introduces his staff. Then, in his booming voice, he presents the bisteccas to his patrons.


I had first seen this presentation on YouTube, back in college when I was working on my butcher shop business proposal for my entrepreneurial class.  Each time Dario picks up those steaks for the presentation, his passion for his trade radiates and fills the room. Even after seeing it countless times, I still find myself getting goosebumps. It’s always one hell of a show.

As soon as Riccardo uttered the words, “in Italian”, I went into a state of panic. My Italian was still atrocious. I’m not going to lie – I tried to get my debut pushed back to the dinner service so I would have a little extra time to practice. Then Riccardo handed me a sheet of paper where he had hand written the spiel and reassured me that I would do fine.

Go practice – You have one hour.

I hate being unprepared.

Practicing behind Officina Della Bistecca

Practicing behind Officina Della Bistecca

I ran upstairs and grabbed Zac, my roommate and fellow stagista, and headed for the parking lot. I needed space to practice. Zac, who is half American, proved useful in helping me memorize the Italian verbiage. After what seemed like a split second, they called for me.

As I made my way through the parking lot towards the restaurant, Samu and Orlando drove up. I gave them the spiel, hoping the last rehearsal would do me good. Orlando rolled his eyes and buried his face in his hands.

Not very reassuring.

Word must have spread that the Texan was doing the presentation because almost as many employees as patrons were in attendance. I walked up to the butcher’s block, grabbed the two huge steaks, and began….

It's a Long Way to the Top

I find it funny how many Italians can’t speak English, but if you throw on some bass-driving AC/DC songs, they can sing every word to perfection. So my first two days at the Celle (Dario's meat lab) we rocked to Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Highway to Hell instead of That’s Amore. Truth be, I don’t care what’s on the playlist – whether it be Dino or Angus Young.  I am in Panzano, Italy, home of Dario Cecchini, one of the most famous butchers in the world and all I want to do is suck the marrow from the bone. I want to learn everything. I know it sounds crazy, but I do. It’s all part of this culinary adventure I’m on – to travel the world, stage with the best butchers and learn all I can from them.

In New York, I worked with great instructors and we processed a lot of lamb – something you don’t really find back home in Texas. Then in the French countryside, I learned traditional French charcuterie and came away with new found knowledge of pate de tete, or headcheese, blood sausage, and Noir de Jambon. Now in Italy, I am learning the ways of the master. I am learning Dario Cecchini's method of butchery.

So on my second day at Celle, I was finally given the opportunity to pull out my knives and get to work. We suited up to You Shook Me All Night Long and then Jadava slid me a shank from across the table and told me to debone it. Back in New York, shank meat was simply removed from the bone and set aside to grind into hamburger. There really wasn’t a specific method to deboning shanks – just get as much meat off the bone as possible. And so I did. I split the two main muscles off the shank like I had done so many times before. And then,

Que Catzo?!

I heard Jadava boom from across the table. He hurried around the butcher block towards me, apologizing for not being more specific.

No, no! Maestro Dario makes steak out of shank muscles. See, like this. Capisci?

Si, si. Dario wanted everything taken off in one smooth piece. Jadava explained that when he first started, he cut shanks for four months before Dario ever let him touch another cut of meat. He said if Dario wasn’t happy with your work, you were gone. It was Dario’s way or the highway. He deboned another shank to demonstrate and then I got back to work. This time, with much more precision and attention to detail. Now I was cutting a steak – not making hamburger.

All that day I was the ‘shank man’. Every shank that came through the processing room was mine. I was ecstatic to be back cutting meat and silently smiled to myself when next on the playlist was, It’s a Long Way to the Top.

Yes, indeed it is.