A young, comely generation of butchers is making what was once a gruesome back room enterprise into a lesson in conscientious consumption
It’s been a few years since The New York Times heralded the new breed of butchers the food world’s de facto rock stars, replete with all the badass sex appeal generally associated with big sharp knives, brute strength and enough arm tattoos to moonlight as a Motorhead roadie. But the blood thirst surrounding these knife-wielding professionals shows no sign of waning. No longer the province of old, grizzled men in blood-splattered whites, attractive young men and women espousing issues of animal welfare and environmental responsibility populate New York City’s most prestigious butcher shops these days. Artisan butchery has become the locus for conscientious consumption and primal hedonism. If Banksy’s recent commentary on the meat industry is any indication, this is a sector that needs all the re-branding it can get. Luckily, there are plenty of places around the city where you can get expertly sourced and butchered meat and ogle a bit of eye candy while you’re at it…if that’s your thing. Here are four suggestions.
"People who have a lot of experience in this trade get a little peeved by the un-seriousness with which it’s perceived by others. This is a very serious trade and you’re not a master butcher after two years. You’re never a master butcher. – Adam Tiberio"
At 30, Adam Tiberio has already put in ten years in the meat industry and inhabited just about every role one can have, from “clean up boy” at Whole Foods in Boston, where he started his career as a college student, to working in processing plants, slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities. He helped to open the now-legendary Dickson’s Farmstand Meats (see below) and traveled across the country as a “meat consultant” (it’s a thing!), helping restaurants and butcher shops address everything from workflow and efficiency to cut offerings. And while it might be easy to lump Tiberio into the now ubiquitous “hot young butcher” pile, due to his rugged good looks and requisite arm tattoo (just one, which reads “macellaio,” Italian for butcher), he is equal parts evangelical about provenance and wary of kids his age trying to break into the field because of its hip factor. “People who have a lot of experience in this trade get a little peeved by the un-seriousness with which it’s perceived by others. This is a very serious trade and you’re not a master butcher after two years. You’re never a master butcher.”
After leaving Dickson’s, Tiberio opened Tiberio Custom Meats inside of the Frank Prisinzano-owned Lower East Side restaurant Sauce, and soon began collaborating with chef Justin Hilbert to offer unique, high ticket, meat-centric tasting menus under the moniker The Butcher’s Table. He’s now on the cusp of mounting his most ambitious project to date: The first USDA certified, all locally sourced processing facility and meat counter in New York City, to be called the Farmer’s Public Meat Market, which is part of his long term plan to support small farms and make local meat more affordable. In an adjacent space, he’ll be rebooting The Butcher’s Table, which will operate as a casual lunch counter by day and a reservations-only pre-fixe restaurant by night. The two are set to unfold in the next several months inside the Moore Street Market, a city-owned indoor space poised to be the new Essex Street Market, Bushwick Edition.
Boredom at her PR job, an academic interest in food transparency and a transformative charcuterie-making class at the French Culinary Institute inspired Sara Bigelow to make a career change. In 2010, after several fruitless attempts to win apprenticeships with some of the old-school Italian butchers in her Brooklyn neighborhood (“They were like, ‘You’re my daughter’s age, why are you interested in this?’ It didn’t make sense to them why someone with no affiliation to the industry would want to come and do it”) she convinced Tom Mylan to let her work two days a week at the then-fledging Meat Hook. A weekend gig turned into a full-time job. Now she prides herself and her fellow butchers on not just knife fluency but customer service. “We’re a shop where people feel comfortable being like, ‘OK, this is a really dumb question, but…’ I really love the fact that we are a destination for that.” Don’t miss the Meat Hook’s insanely delicious array of sausages and Sara’s house-made hams.
"We’re a shop where people feel comfortable being like, ‘OK, this is a really dumb question, but…’"
With its modernist, all-glass interior and smartly dressed counter personnel, the jewel-box sized Japan Premium Beef looks more like a couture boutique than a butcher shop, and that is sort of the idea. The exceedingly high-quality meat it purveys—which includes “Washugyu,” a special crossbreed of Wagyu and prime Black Angus beef from Oregon—is like a luxury brand for your mouth. Head butcher Eiichi Yamamoto moved to the States to open the shop after spending 15 years working as a butcher in Japan. “Training was similar to that of a sushi chef. They didn’t teach us much, we just had to watch, and they’d have us do really simple things. Finally after two years, I was allowed to cut meat.” His expertise is evident as he slices ruby-hued ribbons of beef for sukiyaki using a special Japanese meat slicer that’s the only one of its kind in New York City.
Lena Diaz’s entrée in the butchering trade came after 10 years behind a desk at an international marketing company in Spain. To escape the monotony of her job, she shopped daily at the local markets, marveling at the joyfulness and community she observed inside her local butcher shop. “All of my butchers in Spain were female. Fifty or sixty years old, awesome women with their hair done perfectly, their makeup did and their nails manicured.” Upon her return to New York, she knew it was time for a change. In 2007, she landed a gig training at the infamous, now-shuttered Jeffrey’s in the Essex Street Market, and bopped around to various other meat counters before landing at rustic-chic meat destination Dickson’s Farmstand in Chelsea Market. “I’m in my zen when I can break down a whole animal and take my time and do everything with lots of care. I find it really relaxing.” Her only complaint? “I can’t get my nails done weekly. Could be worse.”