In early October, I traveled to Berlin to work with Simon Ellery, founder of The Sausage Man Never Sleeps. Instead of writing about my experience, I produced this video which should give you a better idea of what I'm doing in Europe. Enjoy!
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,
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.
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….
Viva la Ciccia… E chi la Stropiccia!
Dario has always sung the praises of beef. The hallowed halls of his macelleria (Italian butcher shop) are decorated with paintings and sculptures. Each in some way pays homage to the king of meats:
On a normal day, beef is all he deals with. You won’t find chicken or fowl in the display case. You won’t find a lamb carcass hanging in the walk-in. You want a pork chop? He doesn’t sell those either.
People travel halfway around the world to feast on the Bistecca alla Fiorentina at his table. He ships these same steaks to many parts of Europe. Even though he is known for his beef, Dario is also a master when it comes to pork.
Dario uses pork in three of his dishes:
- Burro de Chianti - or butter of Chianti is a seasoned pork lard. Dario spreads it lavishly on crostini and baked potatoes. I’m in love. After having tasted burro de Chianti, I’ll never ruin another baked potato with butter again.
- Tonno de Chianti - or Tuna of Chianti are pork hams that are salted, then braised in white wine and liquids. Tonno de Chianti is a component of the Accoglienza plate at McDario.
- Porchetta - a boneless pork roast where the body of the pig is de-boned, seasoned, rolled and cooked. Porchetta is another component of Dario’s Accoglienza plate.
On day three of my staging at the Celle, Samu taught me how to prepare the porchetta for Dario. We each grabbed a knife and a side of pork and got to work. Samu began by cutting just beneath the spare ribs and eventually worked his way up to and around the vertebrae – he was left with a beautiful, boneless pork loin and belly. After a few extra minutes, I finished up with my side of pork. Samu said our work, for the most part, was done so we loaded the pork sides into the refrigerated Mercedes van and made our way back up to the macelleria.
The master took over from there – with a high-output torch. Now don’t confuse this high output torch with a puny, little creme brulee torch.
This baby could burn down a house.
Once the hair was scorched from the skin, Dario turned the sides of pork over and gave them a heavy dusting of seasonings:
- course ground sea salt,
- a variety of fresh Tuscan herbs,
- and a copious amount of crushed garlic - Dario likes his garlic!
Behind the seasoning, he rolled up the sides of pork into what I can best describe as a cowboy’s bedroll. As he rolled, he scored. He cut long incisions down the length of the carcasses, allowing for a tighter roll.
Then when everything was nice and tight, he hand-tied butchers string along the length to keep everything in place for cooking.
After 4 hours in the oven at a high temperature, the two rolls of porchetta came out with a beautiful,golden-brown skin. We placed two bricks at each end of the rolls to elevate them above their drippings to keep the skin nice and crispy. That night, Dario’s diners enjoyed some of the freshest and most savory porchetta in all of Italy. I’d like to think that I was a small part of this Italian culinary tradition.
Just a short year ago, I was staring down graduation from Texas Christian University. I had just told my family and friends I was turning down the job offers, turning down the new luxury car, and turning down financial security. I saw raised eyebrows and some crazy looks when I apprised them I was ditching it all and going to chase my passion – I was going to be a craft butcher.
Yes, a butcher. But not just any butcher, I explained, I wanted be like “the” butcher.
Of course, words failed me in describing “the” butcher so I turned to the videos - the same ones that inspired me to ditch the American dream.
Dario Cecchini is described as, "...a personality, a celebrity, and a butcher extraordinaire. A theatrical host, a show-stopper, and an artist."To me, he is the rock star in the butchery game. He is an 8th generation butcher and his family's shop has been open for more than 250 years in the small town of Panzano, Italy.
Dario embodies everything I want to do:
- and Entertain.
He is the reason I picked up the cleaver.
Tonight, as I write this post, I have freshly arrived in Panzano, in the Tuscany region of Italy. The small ancient town sits atop a good sized hill, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees on the rolling hills as far as the eye can see. I am setting at a small bedroom window overlooking Antica Macelleria Cecchini. I am watching "the” butcher welcome guests with a warm smile and open arms. Here, the meat is plentiful and the wine flows profusely.
Tomorrow morning it will be my honor to stage with my idol for a week.
Again, words escape me.
I am truly blessed.
We have an AMAZING God!
So I’ve told you where I am and what I’m doing, but there’s been very little about butchery on this blog; and seeing as you’re probably here to learn about meat, or because you’re my mom and you love me, I should go over some of that.
Over the 12 week hands-on program at Fleishers Craft Butcher, I will become an proficient nose-to-tail butcher. The first half of my training has been taking place at the Fleishers' processing facility where we take a whole animal carcass and break it down into smaller primal and sub-primal cuts.
Still not following?
Well, you are in luck because I got my hands on some camera equipment…