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A farmer, a butcher and 3 chefs walk into the kitchen…..

I know, sounds like the start of a good joke right?  No joke, last week farmer April Thatcher, Chef/Owner of Lapellah Restaurant, David Mork, Executive Chef Mike Campos, and Sous Chef Zach Burkett, showed up at my house with a 100 pound side of pig ready for a butchery strategy session.

David’s plan is to purchase April Joy Farm’s pasture raised pigs and then break them down in house giving his chefs control over the quality of the cuts and enabling them to add more variety to their menu. More porky quality and variety coming out of Lapellah’s wood burning ovens sounds like a winner to me!

The trick to making whole hog work in a restaurant is utilizing every scrap of meat which takes some strategizing before you ever put the knife in your hand.


We started the conversation discussing turning pork cheek into guanciale, continuing with whether we should start cutting at the 2nd and 3rd rib or should it be 4 and 5?…………


Zach Burkett & David Mork


Ok game plan set, knife action…… did we ever remember anything before cell phones?


Me, David Mork, April Thatcher, Mike Campos



Zach Burkett, David Mork, April Thatcher, Mike Campos



All the pretty pork…..




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Raising the Steaks at Best Butcher Competition 2013

“Old School” Kicks Pork Butt!

On Saturday, September 21st eleven of the best butchers in the county went knife to knife in the “Best Butcher Competition 2013” in Portland, Oregon.  In the last few months over 3000 meat cutters have competed in local and regional competitions narrowing the field down to the final eleven, which included me!

Battle Ready!

Battle Ready!

Seattle 2013 - 2

Competition day was pleasant and mostly sunny, except for the 20 minute downpour right before our event started.  Wouldn’t be Portland without some rain in the day!  A few hundred people were gathered in front of the big stage in Director’s Park, live music and dancing going on, and Whole Foods vendors cooking up great food and drinks for the crowd to sample.  (note the large group in “Black Belt Butcher” t-shirts…yep…my posse!)

The BBB Posse

The BBB Posse

From backstage I hear them, local celebrity chef Adam Sappington, Jenn Louis a past Top Chef  Masters contestant,  and Top Chef winner Paul Qui.  They are revving up the crowd before our knife-fest begins.….then we’re all walking out onto the stage…..and the crowd goes wild for me!!!….I mean us…well me…being the hometown favorite let’s just say the crowd was generously seeded with my family, friends and co-workers who had instructions to go crazy with the yelling and screaming.  They made an awesome noise for Robert “Old School” Young and I loved it!

We take our stations; start sharpening our knives and then we’re off butchering a pork leg at top speed for the next 20 minutes.  I cut, sawed, tied, trimmed and then hands up I’m done.  Crazy fast but I had some good looking pork on that tray.

Best Butcher PDX 1

The judges go from table to table looking at the eleven presentation trays….they talk…they point….they take notes…they look some more….the competitors sweat….the crowd is quiet….and finally they are ready to announce the final 4 who will move on to the next round.   YES, I’m in the top 4!!

After some stage reorganizing the final 4 are brought back out and again the crowd goes crazy.  What a rush this is….if it wasn’t so stressful it would be fun.  Déjà vu all over again only this time it’s a beef leg on the table in front of us.  Three, two, one and the knives start to fly for another 20 minutes.

Again with the cutting, tying, sawing and trimming; did I mention sawing? Yeah, I sawed on that leg for what felt like forever.  I was sweating, breathing heavy and really slowing down…cut…keep cutting…cut some more…and then I hear the crowd roar with 3, 2, 1 and it’s over!

Best Butcher PDX 5

I look at what my competitors produced and its good; no slouches in this bunch.   I’ll be honest though, I was pretty sure it was between me and Hector “El Jefe” Yedra from San Francisco.  The impressive volume of meat on his tray had me rethinking my strategy of doing less common and more intricate cuts.  We’ll see.

The judges do their thing again with the looking and talking; then they huddle for what seems like hours.  Finally one of them comes to the mike and says they’re going to announce the Fan Favorite and then the Winner.  Holding my breath….and it’s “Old School” as fan favorite!  The crowd goes WILD…screaming..cheering…whoot, whoot….seemed to go on forever!!!  I look out and my family, friends and co-workers are jumping up and down going crazy.  It was ridiculous and I loved every second of it!

Fan Favorite

Family Best Butcher facebook95-1907087828 facebook95-1759296633

Oh yeah….back to the business at hand….announcing the winner…and the winner is… Hector “El Jefe” Yedra!  Impressive work Hector!  Well deserved.

It’s all good; I made it to the Top 4 and won Fan Favorite.  Totally happy with what I accomplished and proud to have represented my craft.  It will go down as one of my best days ever!


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Seared Venison Loin with French Onion Sauce

Just a quick post to share a delicious and super easy venison recipe with you.  Wish I could take the credit but Mrs. Black Belt Butcher was the chef de cuisine on this one.  Oh, and since we’re passing out credit,  I need to thank my son-in-law for the sweet and tender venison he harvested last fall.  My contribution to this meal was of course the butchering of the deer.  Hope you try it – send me a comment and let me know if you make it and how it turns out for you.

Seared Venison Loin with French Onion Sauce

1 venison loin

1 large onion sliced thin

2 tblsp butter

3 tblsp oil

2 cups beef broth

¼ red wine

1 tblsp soy sauce

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Coat the venison loin with 1 tblsp of oil and then rub with the pepper, salt and cayenne, set aside.  Melt the butter and 1 tblsp of oil in a skillet on medium heat being sure not to brown the butter.  Add the onion slices to the skillet and cook gently over medium low heat until they are caramelized and golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Turn the heat up to medium high and add the broth, red wine and soy sauce.  Let the sauce simmer vigorously until the liquid reduces by half, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Pour the sauce into a bowl and set aside.  Rinse the skillet and then return to the stove.  Add the remaining 1 tblsp of oil to the skillet and heat it on high heat until the pan is smoking hot.  Place the meat in the pan and sear for 2 minutes, turn and sear on the other side for another 1 to 2 minutes. The meat is best cooked only to medium rare or medium. Anymore and it will be dry.  Remove meat from the pan and let rest for 5 minutes.   Slice and serve with the sauce.

(ps – you could substitute pork loin for the venison, leeks for the onion and white wine instead of red and that would be delicious too!)

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Oscar winning performance!

Ok maybe it’s not an Oscar winning performance but a guy’s got to start somewhere.  Thank goodness my cutting skills are better than my acting skills.  Check out my first meat cutting video.  I promise I’ll get better at it!

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Decadence, gluttony and celebrating the pig farmer

Spent last weekend in Seattle attending the Cochon 555.  It was a fantastic weekend, sunny and cold, perfect weather for a porkapalooza!  The Cochon 555 brings together 5 award winning local chefs, each cook one of 5 locally raised heritage pigs, and 5 local wineries offer up their wines to accompany all of the dishes.  Yes it’s decadence and gluttony, but with a message and a cause.

The event celebrates local farmers who have embraced small sustainable farming and have helped to save breeds of pigs that were in danger of going extinct.  Farmers whose pigs live in pastures, forage, wallow, make babies the old fashioned way, and on their final day are dispatched humanely.

Big Ag created the “other white meat” using genetic engineering and massive ad campaigns in an attempt to convince the American public that cheaper was better than taste, texture and the humane treatment of the animal.  Big Ag, big corporate dollars and modern science create millions of enormous white pork monsters, pen them, inseminate them, and raise them in football field size facilities that look and smell like cesspools.  Not what I want on my table and I’m happy to say not what a lot of other people want either.

Me & a big farmer in the background

It was a lavish event with all you can eat bacon on every table!  We also slurped up sustainably raised oysters, caviar,  cheeses, wines, breads….and all of that before eating what the chefs had cooked!

Best part of the evening for me was watching the head-to-head competition of 2 local butchers in a speed cutting match.  They were given a side of pork, a cut-list and 40 minutes to carve, trim and tie up the prettiest pork possible.  They had entirely different techniques and approaches to the cuts which was interesting for me to see, and apparently for a lot of others too.  These guys were the rock stars of the night!  I seriously thought people were gonna start asking for their autographs!  Awesome to see butchers getting some long overdue respect.

Meat cutting demo with Tracy Smaciarz of Heritage Meats

Mrs. Black Belt Butcher was kind enough to stand in line at all of the chef stations and then bring me back the plates of porky goodness so that I didn’t have to miss any of the cutting action.  Turns out that there must have been 555 people at the Cochon and the lines were soooooo long that we weren’t even able to make it thru some of the stations before they ran out of food.

Logistically the event had some flaws. Three of the chefs seriously did not think thru how to plate and feed a crowd of that size and it was frustrating for the guests.  There was a lack of tables so people ended up having to balance wine glasses and plates while trying to eat.  Again frustrating.  If you were lucky enough to snag the corner of a table you first needed to push away a 6 deep pile of dirty plates and glasses.  Don’t know what the staff of the Westin Seattle were paid to do, but it certainly wasn’t clearing tables.  Nuff said.

The chef we voted for didn’t win, Holly Smith, but she put out the best bite of the night if you ask me (which they didn’t by the way).  It was pork ice cream with a bacon toffee brittle.  Really, it was the best tasting dish of the night!  Sweet, rich, porky, salty and crunchy.  Delicious.

All in all an enjoyable event made all the better by the cause it supports.  However the pork hangover was a bitch.

And the winner is...Ethan Stowell

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Passion into Profit

You’re a chef with a passion for seasonal local fare, you know your farmers, and your customers trust you to choose sustainably raised and pastured animals.  You are  proud of your whole animal culinary skills and your clean food ethic, however

… turning whole animal passion into profit can be challenging…

Whole animal product is a costly ingredient.  All it takes is the slip of a knife or someone’s careless cutting for your profits to end up in the scrap bin worth nothing more than the price of a burger!

I am a master butcher and culinary educator who can teach you and your staff how to get the most value from your whole animals.  I practice the old world art of whole carcass butchery.  I have a passion for this work, and I’m not bragging when I say my skills are unequaled.  My mission is to share and teach the art and craft of butchery.

…no wasted effort, no wasted product…

Time is money and it’s a precious commodity that can’t be wasted in your kitchen.  I can teach you and your staff the best and most efficient cutting techniques and will share my tips and tricks for getting the most out of your whole animal.

The “Black Belt Butcher” teaches:

  • Whole animal breakdown
  • Maximizing primal cut varieties
  • Meat cutting skill development
  • Sausage making tips & techniques
  • Mastering the Knife
  • Meat menu consultations
  • Butchery Demonstrations

Get a free “Mastering the Knife” lesson when a 1 hour class is scheduled.

Only $75 per hour – up to 3 individuals

Each additional person is $45 per hour

Call or email me today to schedule your lesson.

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Amen to the Reverend of Fat!

Just watched the trailer for the upcoming Seattle Cochon 555.  It definitely got my attention and I can’t wait for the pig fest to begin.

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