Marco Pauvert was just 14 years old when he took off for the French Alps to become a master butcher. He apprenticed under the best in the business for five years, then set off around the world to teach others the craft. The Frenchman has studied the cultural differences in butchery from all over, from Marrakech to Saudi Arabia to Washington DC. He's also observed that butchery is in critical condition.
"Butchering is a lost art. When you go to a grocery store, if you ask for a special cut of meat, they don't know what it is," Pauvert says. "I try to train chefs to do better and I love my profession, but it makes me sad sometimes."
Pauvert has joined forces with Blackberry Farm alum Michael Sullivan and Republique's chef and owner Walter Manzke to host a two-day, invitation-only Cure Camp to teach the basics and intricacies of butchery and charcuterie to restaurant industry insiders.
Unlike Pauvert, most aspiring chefs today can't jaunt to the Alps to apprentice. Although endless information on the craft exists on the internet, it doesn't provide the same hands-on training that makes a master.
Cure Camp gives chefs that opportunity for in-person education. In a back room at Republique, a group takes notes diligently as Sullivan explains the science behind curing meat.
"It's not just adding salt to meat. There's all of this magic going on and I want you to understand and be comfortable with what nitrites are and what they're not," Sullivan says.
In addition to lectures like this one on salumi and charcuterie, there are other sessions and demos covering aging meat, preparing terrines, breaking down different animals, and more.
"All of these are accomplished chefs, and they're like I've never seen that before," Sullivan says. "The information we're doing, you don't read it in books. The reason I started this was because I saw that need out there."
After the lecture, the group heads downstairs to watch Pauvert in his element. He fills a glass to its brim with red wine, takes a deep gulp, and proceeds to break down a chicken for the camera-ready cooks in 18 seconds.
"There's nobody better than these two guys," Manzke says of Pauvert and Sullivan. The three met through Cochon 555 and tried to figure out a way to bring Cure Camp to LA. With the help of a sponsorship from Creekstone Farms, they were able to pull it off without any charging money for the event (or getting paid for that matter).
"I wanted to create a class where if you're hungry for the information, you have no excuse," Sullivan says. "This is important for bringing back all of these techniques that got lost."
Looking around the room at the swarm of cooks around Pauvert—now sawing into a slick and hairless lamb—it was obvious that the people in attendance were, as Sullivan says, hungry to learn. There's definitely a demand for this kind of education.
"Most of the time—at least in Los Angeles, and I think in a lot of other cities—as a chef I'm always thinking about cutting labor. Human capital is expensive; you have less time to do things like this," Viviane chef Michael Hung says.
According to Pauvert and Sullivan, attending events like Cure Camp actually leads to cost cutting, after all.
"My name is Marc 'Money' Pauvert. I teach people how to make money, how to take a piece and make 10 percent more profit," he says. "It's a big effort to butcher an animal, and if you do it the wrong way, you won't make money."
As Pauvert saws, Sullivan calls out the different cuts of meat and what you can do with them in the kitchen.
"I look around the room and there are people that I know, chefs that I regard as being more knowledgeable than I am, but they also haven't heard of most of these butcher's basics," says Gwen's head butcher, Alex Jermasek.
Jermasek began his butchery career at age 18 at a butcher shop on Fairfax. Instead of a paycheck, he was paid in meat for the first three months of his service. He dropped out of school to pursue butchery full-time. Now, about eight years later, he can be found behind the meat case at Gwen, one of Los Angeles' trendy new hybrid restaurant/butcher shops. These establishments are certainly playing a role in staving off butchery's extinction. As there are many ways to skin a cat, or break down a steer, there may be many ways to save the art of butchery.
Pauvert calls me over to demonstrate a proper chicken cordon bleu preparation. "It's so beautiful with prosciutto di Parma and Gruyère," Pauveret says, "but the way I do it, it's beautiful."
As during the chicken breakdown, he works at a lightning speed with grace. One of the cooks says "holy shit," under his breath as Pauvert finishes tying the last strings around the orb of meat.