Butchers: New Rock Stars of Culinary World

Photo: Butchers: New Rock Stars of Culinary World: Foodies Drawn to Raw Appeal of Butchers Breaking Down Meat; Young, Muscular Butchers Become Sex Symbols

A new generation of butchers is cropping up in kitchens across the country. Wielding the same knives and saws as their traditional counterparts, these younger butchers also use their tattooed, muscled forearms to break down beef, lamb and pig.

It's such a primal, dangerous act that some have started calling butchering "hot."

"I'm sweating ... it's definitely hard work. Especially if you do it the old-fashioned way ... with a cleaver and a handsaw, it's a lot of work," said Seamus Mullen, chef at Boqueria, a New York City restaurant.

Rock Stars to the Bone

But, as first reported by New York Magazine and the New York Times, that raw appeal has led some to call butchers sex symbols.

"I would definitely not consider myself a sex symbol," said Ryan Skeen, executive chef at Allen and Delancy in New York City. "If you would see me at the end of a service, I definitely don't think anyone would consider me a sex symbol."

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"I think more people would be grossed out by someone cutting up an animal, a carcass, than be aroused by it," Mullen said.

But Josh Ozersky, national restaurant editor at CitySearch.com and a self-professed meat guru, said that people have a gut reaction that draws them to the gore, the blood and the violence of butchering.

"Let's face it, there's something very erotic about seeing whole animal carcasses cut up," said Ozersky.

The popularity of training to be a butcher started to fade in the 1960s when pre-cut meats arrived in grocery stores. Butchers were relegated to the back of the supermarket -- often just slicing bologna.

But now, butchers have emerged as the rock stars in the culinary world. With their faces plastered in magazine spreads and their names on meat products, the once little known group is gaining fame and, even, groupies.

Butchers Get Groupies

"I suppose there is an element of coolness to, like if you can cut an animal apart, that's kind of cool," said Mullen. "It's a little bit more cool than if you can peel a vegetable, a carrot or whatever. But I mean I think it's great that people are taking an interest in what we're doing."

Retail and commercial butcher shops alike have been inundated with requests from young people, many without any culinary background, to apprentice. Some are offering to work for free, in order to learn the intricacies of the trendy trade.

Pat LaFrieda Jr., a third-generation New York butcher and owner of Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meats, said he has had to turn down around 40 requests for apprenticeships from "hipsters" in July alone.

LaFrieda warns that the craft isn't glamorous. It's hard, long work, on your feet in a workspace where the temperature's 36 degrees. La Frieda says it's dangerous and not everyone is cut out for it.

"This is serious business, there's nothing glamorous about a bandsaw ... or knives other than, watch your fingers," LaFrieda said. "I cut myself during the night last night. Bandaged myself up and got back to work ... some of us have the scars to prove it."

LaFrieda was one of the first butchers to hit it big in New York City and has gained strong recognition as one of the top meat purveyors. He's been asked to create custom hamburger blends for more than 50 New York City restaurants, including an exclusive $26 hamburger using his sought-after dry-aged steaks.

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