The Proof That Even Slaughterers Can Become Pop Stars Today

By Laura Ewert | WELT Iconist | Berlin | August 2017 | © WorldN24 GmbH. All rights reserved.

The modern butcher blogs and goes on educational journey

At least as beautiful as the meat products from his hands: The blogging butcher Jack Matusek

At least as beautiful as the meat products from his hands: The blogging butcher Jack Matusek

(Translated from Deutsch)

The butcher is often thick in movies, a bit angry. Sometimes bald. Chabrol rather thick-haired. He is wearing a white apron or white rubber boots and has reddened skin. He saws animals apart and leaves them on large hooks through the slaughterhouse. A place for psychotherapists. Battles are not nice.

Jack Matusek is beautiful. He is wearing a cowboy hat, long brown hair, sometimes green cowboy boots, sometimes a jeans shirt. A soft face. There are many photos of him, because he is a blogging butcher, in English, it sounds as nice as it looks: blogging butcher. He has large pieces of meat in his hand, he shows swine-ear terrines, or how to rouse a whole animal. On his "Raw Republic Meats" page, he writes about his travels, where he wants to learn everything about the craft. The 26-year-old is the proof that even slaughterers can become pop stars today - it helps of course if they look like this.

The slaughterer's new star potential is well explained by the rules of modern gourmets, who eat his bread only artisan and carrots grow blue or crooked. For him, food must be fresh, easily prepared with effort, best self-cultivated. And, of course, ethically correct. This is a tedious business, particularly in meat. One that moves the minds tremendously, in the face of animal protection, in which cow eyes look sadly from truck slits. In the case of conscious eaters, it is, therefore, a good idea to try to find out whether you can kill your food yourself (see the book "Eating Animals"), or at least making a few sausages yourself.

This explains why the butcher is so interested.

The humble craft of the butcher is definitely coming - worldwide”, says Jack Matusek, who has found his model in Italy. ”I’ve seen videos of Dario Cecchini cutting meat, while he heard AC / DC .  I was excited. Then I understood that it was more than cutting meat. It was art.

Traveling around the world all over the world

This craftsmanship charmed Matusek. He is a Texan, seventh generation.

If I could wear my hat in the bed, I would do it, he says.

Texas is known for one of the most important economic sectors in the country, the cattle breeding. In 2011 the US produced more than one billion kilos of beef . "I grew up on a ranch. As a child, I enjoyed playing in the kitchen and refined my childish cooking skills, says Matussek. Combining cooking and cattle seemed to me a suitable idea."

At first, he studied history and business administration, where he also developed a business plan for a delicacy butchery. This idea grew more and more in him. "So I canceled the job offers after my graduation and decided to learn everything about the butcher's trade." That was 2015. Since then, he has been on an educational journey with regard to meat.

Jack Matusek first researched, wrote e-mails, and asked at various companies if he could learn from them. He enrolled at the best Fleischer school in the USA, Fleishers Craft Butchery in Brooklyn, New York. Because there was no free place for him, he worked in the next slaughterhouse to learn the basics.

At the same time, he began writing his blog. "I wanted to create a way to teach people about good meat with recipes and video tutorials." That's how you see how he cooks his steak. Directly in the fire. He calls it "Dirty Steak", and the video, in which he explains that you have to leave it four minutes per side in the fire to enjoy it "medium rare" is underlined with action music.

Finally, he moved to Europe. "If you want to learn to surf, go to California, if you want to learn something about sausage, go to France," he had read somewhere. So he sold his car, grabbed his backpack and went to France together with a cowboy hat and a good finish.


Learn from the best butcher

There he worked at the slaughterhouse, on a farm, in a restaurant, ate a lot and learned a lot about French sausages. He spent his 25th birthday at the "Le St. James", a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bordeaux.

Then he went on to Panzano in the Chianti, where he worked with his hero Dario Cecchini, the most famous butcher of Italy. Bill Buford, a New York journalist, was already working as a butcher's assistant. Cecchini sells the self-cut meat in his restaurant "Officina della Bistecca" (Italian for steak workshop). 

Matusek then went to France again. In the Gascogne, he was introduced to the secret of national sausage specialties such as Pâté de Tête. He learned how to make the boneless ham Noix de Jambon from a pig's leg, and that any excess blood can cause the meat to rot during drying.

He also studied in Peru, Argentina, and Mexico. "Each country has its own style, which depends above all on local products. But also the climate and the weather influence the way of preparation and storage." A bit like the wine. The Germans, he says, are very exact at slaughter. They would hardly leave meat on the bone. The French cut rather elegantly.

Jack Matusek:  "What did the animal eat, how did it live, how was it slaughtered - all that counts for the taste"

Jack Matusek: "What did the animal eat, how did it live, how was it slaughtered - all that counts for the taste"

Like a cook, a butcher always has his knives, he recommends that of F. Dick. Matusek's favorite sausage specialty is the Italian Coppa of the Schweinenacken. And he loves Hanger steak, the tail of a long bison loin. He likes to work, the boy from the cattle country, but now with pig. "I just know the most about it now." And his favorite vegetable? This is the potato: "So versatile!" The best sausage is made from fresh ingredients, he says. Naturally. He is enthusiastic about Chorizo: "With different types of peppers, smoked, spicy or bittersweet." In addition, only meat from animals, which had grown well. 

What did it eat, how it lived, how it was slaughtered - all that counts ultimately for the taste.

With extreme vegetarians , he had so far no problems. "Vegetarians love the welfare of the animals, just like me. Animals have to live a happy life, and they have a right to pain-free and decent slaughter. "


Battles, Blogging, and Travel

Matusek is currently working in Denmark, where he is working for a few months. At the end of August, he will come to Germany and look at some pig farms and abattoirs. For the future, he has nothing less than to produce the best sausage specialties in the world. For this, he has to found a company in which he can control everything - from the breeding of the animals through their rearing to their slaughter. "I hope I will return to my ranch in Texas and build an ethically correct slaughter house, with pig farming. And a school for the butchers."

In the meantime, he wants to travel further, to continue writing, to continue learning, to continue, as in Copenhagen at the annual "Butcher's Manifesto Summit". There meet Fleischer from all over the world, to formulate goals for the craft and to exchange ideas about what the world's foodie now calls charcuterie : Superstar meat products.

Fambam in Italy

The Italy Plan was formed a few years ago: take Nana Marge (my grandmother) to see the country of her ancestors. It would require lots of walking and many flights of stairs – bad news for a woman with bad knees, but a couple of years and a couple of knee replacements later, Nana Marge was kicking and ready to roll. The itinerary was for a three-week tour throughout Italy, all fourteen of us. That’s right, one – four.

We roll hella’ deep.

Before their arrival, I had been in Florence for a week, cramming in every bit of Italian cuisine knowledge I could get my hands on:

  • an all-day wine tour through the Chianti region,
  • 4 cooking classes,
  • and countless balsamic and wine tastings.

My family joined me in Florence and we trained down to the Amalfi coast for the first leg of our trip.  We stayed at a small, lemon villa right on the coast and visited the charming coastal towns of Maiori, Positano, Ravello, Sorrento and of course the Island of Capri. I got to practice some of my new pasta skills there in the villa’s kitchen.

My brother, Sam, and I on the Amalfi Coast.

My brother, Sam, and I on the Amalfi Coast.

Not a shabby view from our villa.

Not a shabby view from our villa.

The family was buried in Italian food.

The family was buried in Italian food.

After a few days of relaxation in the Italian sun, we visited the ancient city of Pompeii and then dropped in for lunch at  L' Antica Pizzeria da Michele, in Naples.  Many consider it to be the best pizza in the world. Julia Roberts thought so in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.

Views from the ancient city of Pompeii.

Views from the ancient city of Pompeii.

The ancient people of Pompeii even knew beef was king.

The ancient people of Pompeii even knew beef was king.

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, a landmark from the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.

L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, a landmark from the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.

Damn good pizza.

Damn good pizza.

Then up the peninsula to the capital city, Rome. We took in the Coliseum and the Vatican along with every other tourist in the world.

Warning for those headed to Rome – be ready to fight your way through densely packed crowds in tight and enclosed spaces.

Rome requires a lot of walking! We found a seat whenever and wherever we could.

Rome requires a lot of walking! We found a seat whenever and wherever we could.

Sam and I at the Coliseum.

Sam and I at the Coliseum.

In Rome, we did the obligatory dinner at Alfredo’s, home of “the king of noodles” and Fettuccini Alfredo. The restaurant has long been a celebrity hotspot, indicated by the numerous photographs of stars hanging on the walls. It was my cousin Mitchell’s birthday and he was honored to dine with the original gold fork and spoon gifted to Alfredo by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

The birthplace of Fettuccini Alfredo

The birthplace of Fettuccini Alfredo

JFK even liked the spot.

JFK even liked the spot.

Next to Venice where we dined at Harry’s Bar, home of the Bellini and Carpaccio – thinly sliced raw beef dressed in a tangy mayo sauce. It was formerly a hangout for expats and celebs including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Wells, and Charlie Chaplin. One night, Mitchell and I veered away from the family to visit the Casino on the Grand Canal – we didn’t stay very long, but we did feel like we were in a James Bond movie.

The cousins taking on Venice!

The cousins taking on Venice!

Beef carpaccio at Harry's Bar.

Beef carpaccio at Harry's Bar.

The last leg of our trip was a week in Tuscany at a villa near Montalcino. We did little day excursions throughout the countryside, but the best was definitely our time in Panzanno visiting the Le Fonti vineyard and dining with Dario Cecchini at Officina Della Bistecca.

The family at Dario's.

The family at Dario's.

We were given the seats of honor, right in the middle of the table next to all the meat.

We were given the seats of honor, right in the middle of the table next to all the meat.

Sam and I visiting A winery in Panzano.

Sam and I visiting A winery in Panzano.

We couldn't leave without a small tasting!

We couldn't leave without a small tasting!

As our time in Italy came to a close, we made our way to Milan, but not without a surprise departure to Sumirago. (the village where my nana's family came from)  As luck would have it, our bus broke down right as we entered the village.  All fourteen of us spilled out of the bus and onto the cobbled street - nearly doubling the town's population, but the best thing of all, as we were waiting for a rescue bus, we became acquainted with an old man on the street who, as you guessed it, was Nana Marge's kinfolk!  It was a wonderful surprise.

Our Italian Fambam was an epic vacation - a trip of a lifetime.  It was good to see my family after traveling alone for two months. As they made their way back across the Atlantic, I grabbed my pack and rucked-up for my journey back to the land of wine and cheese for some more in-depth training in charcuterie.

Red is His Signature Color

My grandpa, Doug,  use to say,

If it ain't red, it ain't no good.

 

I think his love of the color red started with his first pair of cowboy boots - Every truck and barn he ever owned were painted red until the day he died.

As I sat with my bulging bags piled next to me at one of the slate tables on the patio of McDario (Dario Cecchini’s burger joint located conveniently next door to his macelleria), the noon Italian sun beat down on the black table where Dante, Zac, and I sat. My companions had joined me for my last meal before I was to head to Florence. We took in the namesake meal of the restaurant – the “McDario” - a very thick, burger patty cooked in beef tallow and served with a side of tallow fries. Even though this was the end of my time in Panzano, I wasn’t ready to head to the bus station. Not quite yet.

I grabbed a permanent marker from my bag and headed next door to the macelleria. When I saw a break in the action behind the counter, I seized the opportunity.

Dario, posso avere una firma?”

I asked as I held out my hat and the marker.

Ovviamente!

He exclaimed as he produced a giant red marker from inside his vest.

Of course Dario had a red marker. It’s his signature color that matches his ubiquitous pants, socks and plastic crocs that he wears every day, seven days a week! I have a feeling Dario and my grandfather would have gotten along quite well.

Dario signing my Stetson with his large red permanent marker.

Dario signing my Stetson with his large red permanent marker.

I showed him the section in my hat designated for his signature and away he went. When he returned it, I realized he had found a new place for his signature. Inside the crown of my hat,

"EAT MEAT Dario Cecchini"

was scrawled in red and ran all the way through “Panzano, Italy”, past “Lima, Peru” and most of Patagonia. I couldn’t have been happier. I even got him to sign my apron before we embraced and parted ways.

On a sidenote, I can’t begin to describe the incredible generosity and hospitality Dario Cecchini showed me throughout my stay. This man is the reason I became a butcher – a landmark in the butchery industry and a true inspiration to me. Working for him has been surreal. I am deeply honored to call him a mentor and a friend.

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.

Vi presento LA COSTATA ALLA FIORENTINA!

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….

Trouble in Paradise

For a week, I was Dario’s lone stagista, living in a meat cutting paradise and absolutely loving it. I cut, I cleaned, and I helped in any way possible. I assumed Dario was pleased with my work because he invited me to stay for another three weeks.

An entire month with the greatest butcher in the world?

 

Life doesn’t get much better.

But then trouble in paradise began with a flood of new stagistas.

The first additional stagista arrived unannounced. Dario, genuinely one of the most generous people in this world, offered him an apprenticeship thinking he had plenty of openings. However, on the first morning of his staging, I could tell something was up. Even though my Italian was still in its infancy, I detected something was amiss by the way Dario was talking with his head butcher. He seemed a bit flummoxed. We were told not to follow when Dario and his right-hand man excused themselves to the dining room.

Strange, but I thought little of it at the time.

When Jadava appeared in the doorway and asked us to follow him, I still thought nothing of it. However when we walked into the dining room and saw everyone seated around a table, I knew something was up. Dario began in Italian and Riccardo, translated after each line.

I didn’t need any translation. I realized what was happening.

Dario had just been informed of two additional French stagistas scheduled to be arriving the next day. He said they had been in contact for over a year and had their places reserved for some time. His butchers were only able to teach a maximum of two apprentices at a time. Basically, we were out.

Being the gracious man he is, Dario offered to let us remain in the stagista apartment for a week until we could make travel arrangements.

My heart sank. I mean really, I wanted to cry.

I spent the rest of the day working with Riccardo. I tried to shake it off, but Riccardo could see my pain. He knew I had been in contact with Dario for over a year in an attempt to learn from the master. He knew Dario was my idol so he went to battle for me.

That afternoon, Riccardo brought me the news: I could stay the full time and work at the restaurant. The “Frenchies” would only be staging for two weeks and after that, I could get back to cutting meat at the celle. The other apprentice wasn’t as fortunate – within a few days, he left for Florence in search of work.

And so I landed in the kitchen at Officina Della Bistecca – cooking, serving, and washing a shit-ton of dishes, but ever determined to prove my worth to Dario. As I slaved in the dish pit or over a grease-filled burger pan, I was constantly reminded a quote I learned from my Phi Gam brothers back at Texas Christian:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

-Calvin Coolidge

I know all about persistence. It took me twelve emails over the course of twelve months to get to Panzano, Italy. Now that I was here, I wasn’t going down easy.

I am forever grateful to my good friend, Riccardo. Not only did he go to bat for me, he took me in and made me feel welcome.