I recently had the honour of being invited to a butchery demo in the basement of Cowbell (a very unique restaurant in Toronto). Our friend Margaret Mulligan (the fabulous photographer) was shooting the session and, along with Head Chef, Mark Cutrara, I was offered to come along. I always love the chance to explore something I haven’t seen or tried before – we only write about the experiences that we liked or loved. This was one to love. Today’s article is art 1 of 3 and is a serious comparison of a butcher, a chef and a vegetarian. All of the photos are hers. To see the entire series of posts, click here.
“When people write about us they often pit us against vegetarians, and that’s not what we’re trying to do.” Ryan Donovan said this as he stood behind the butcher block of the restaurant he has helped build. He is all things “B” – butcher, baker and breads are all of his domain here. He is also very serious.
“Let me be clear. We need to eat less meat.” He continues to share a vision similar to that of Michael Pollan. Leafy greens should form a large part of our diet and we need to lower our impact and increase our health through a radical change of how we view our diet.
It may sound slightly mad from a butcher and part of the force behind one of Toronto’s leading meat restaurants. It shouldn’t be shocking that Executive Chef Mark Cutrara has the same vision. Both a focused and firm on their vision – and neither has lost it.
My personal relationship with meat has been a conscious and complicated one. Hunting and fishing runs through my family for more than 200 years in North America and I was raised on my share of it. I spent 5-years of my life not eating pork, beef or wild game before coming around full circle to organize the hunting camp I grew up within (more on the entire story is here).
I understand why people struggle with hunting and, on a bigger scale, meat in general. I have also had (and have) many dear friends in life who are devout vegetarians. I firmly beleive that food hunters and vegetarians have much more in common with each other than with many others.
William S. Burroughs wrote the Naked Lunch. Many find it surprising to find out that it was Jack Kerouac who actually came up with the title and proposed it to Burroughs. “The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”
It`s an oversimplification with plenty of exceptions to state that a vegetarian and a hunter are fully conscious of what`s on the plate – one makes a conscious decision that they cannot consume it while the other decides they can. It`s also something I have found to often ring true in my own experiences.
Ryan and Mark are incredibly conscious of what is being served on their plates. They recognize what is on the end of their forks. They are concerned about the quality of life their animals had and buy direct from Farmer`s who do the same. They purchase whole animals direct from farmers and butcher them to cook nose to tail to use as much of the animal as possible. We`ll show how they use as much as 99% of an animal within the restaurant.
The two gentlemen recognize that meat does not come from or grow on styrofoam. There is a conscious acceptance (and excitement) about their product that appears to come from a similar basis that many vegetarians establish their rejection of meat. They both see the Naked Lunch and make opposite decisions for themselves as individuals.
What appears to be diametrically opposed views may actually be more closely related than views from the middle. although there are plenty of exceptions, perhaps it`s as simple as the two sides of the same coin.