Meet Matt Jennings!


Matt Jennings

Chef/Owner Farmstead & La Laiterie at Farmstead

Providence, RI


How long have you been a butcher and where did you get your start? Have you been working with sustainable meats the whole time and if not, what precipitated your shift in practices?


I’ve been butchering since I was 16, as a prep and line cook. Everyday has brought new challenges, and I continue my “education” in butchery by way of self-teaching and seeking out talented Chefs and Butchers to work with. In 2000, while visiting Italy, I was able to work with Dario Cecchini in Chianti for just a couple of days- this was when I was ‘bitten by the bug’. Picking rosemary and lavender and being enveloped by the love for craft that Dario brings to the table, was a life changing experience and it was then that I realized how much I respected the craft. Since then, I have been completely self-taught, reading a lot and working even more to perfect the skill of proper butchery. In my restaurant, I source 100% naturally raised meats, and we are a ‘whole animal’ restaurant- so everything gets broken down on site. Now, I have the ability to teach my cooks- bringing the next generation into the story. So many culinary students and young cooks these days are taught that meat comes in pretty shapes, cryovaced in plastic and all they have to do is open a package and throw it on the grill. We all know this is not the case, so being able to instill knowledge and passion into a younger generation of cooks is paramount for me.

What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?

Meat is hot right now. I think it is a good thing. It’s good for restaurants like mine- showcasing house butchery is important and displays a level of dedication and commitment that few places have. The ‘butchery trend’ is great for consumers as well- it’s about time we ‘took back our food’ and actually learned the old ways and the heritage behind where our food comes from and how it is prepared. Knowing your food on this intimate level, ensures you care more about what you put into your body and ultimately, allows the consumer to ‘vote with their fork’- educating each other and pushing for more knowledge and information from their meat purveyors. I’ve won the Northeast Regional Cochon 555 the past three years in a row, and I can tell you from experience that this movement is not slowing down. People are hungry for more (pun not intended), and that means they want more knowledge of where their food comes from, who is preparing it and how they can cook some of the lesser known cuts at home.

What do you believe is the role of butchers in the movement for a sustainable food system and what do you see as the biggest impediment to a truly sustainable meat industry?

Expense. Good (humanely and responsibly raised and slaughtered) meat is more expensive. People need to understand this. Consumers need to be ready to pay a premium for the skill set a great butcher brings to the table, coupled with the high caliber of product that responsible shops and restaurants can provide. On my end, distribution is a huge issue. I think the Chef who is involved with a higher end butchery model, needs to be flexible and has to be able to adapt to the market- learn how to utilize the ‘lesser known’ cuts, how to cook head to tail- waste not, want not! Work with your distributors- tell them what you want and what you are looking for. It will take strong voices and a determined professionals to keep moving the needle forward. I’m honored to be one of these people.

What does being a member of The Butcher’s Guild mean to you?

Everything. I’m honored and thrilled to have been chosen to represent such an integral part of our industry. Change is in the air. It is an exciting time to be a Chef. We are all learning together- the learning curve with proper butchery is huge, and BG creates a very important and necessary forum for like minded professionals to be able to reach out to each other, share ideas, concerns, thoughts, values and vision. Proper butchery is one of the things that I pride myself on, and I think something that makes my restaurant and businesses stand out. We need to continue to promote this skill, honor the craft and all those who came before us, and most importantly, empower and teach the next generation of butcher. Passing the torch is the ultimate goal. We cannot let this art die. We will not.

Tell us your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe!

Wow. That’s a tough one. There are so many. Right now I’m obsessed with tongue. Smoked. Pickled. Braised. Fried. I can’t get enough. Likewise for any type of offal and organ meat. We have an extensive in-house charcuterie program at La Laiterie, and I pride myself on my attention to detail and commitment to classical charcuterie technique. I’ve been considered as one of the original ‘offal experts’ of this new generation- bringing up the rear of a speeding train that includes my personal heroes and friends like those who are included in the BG- Chris Cosentino, for example, is a friend and someone I look up to as a leader. Ditto for Chefs like Jamie Bissonette and April Bloomfield. We all love those naughty bits that require more in depth thought on their utilization, the numerous techniques required to treat offal with care, and make it sing on a plate. Long live livers and lungs!


Thanks, Matt, for another great introduction to the shining faces of The Butcher’s Guild!

I’ve got a really special combo BG charter member introduction/Friday Feast planned for this week! We’re also gearing up for the Carolina Meat Conference, so expect to hear much more about that as the week goes on. Happy Monday!


Last Day to Register for NC Choices Carolina Meat Conference

Registration for NC Choices Carolina Meat Conference closes TONIGHT at midnight!

Click on the title to this post to be directed to the online registration form and check out the promo video in the sidebar! We are all looking forward to this conference, it’s been a long time coming and will be a great opportunity for exchange of information, research, techniques and movement building. Take a look below for the various classes and other events that the guild is leading.

Fri, March 25th 2-5 pm & Sat, March 26th 9am-12pm

Butchery Craft in Your Home Kitchen
Whole lamb, pig and chicken carcass breakdown with every participant taking home $100 worth of local, pasture-raised meat, a boning knife and Butcher’s Guild tote bag.
with:

Tia Harrison, Co-Founder-The Butcher’s Guild, Owner-Avedano’s Meat Market and Executive Chef-Sociale, San Francisco, CA
Marissa Guggiana, Co-Founder-The Butcher’s Guild, President of Sonoma Direct Sustainable Meats and Author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers
Berlin Reed, The Ethical Butcher, Portland, OR
Craig Deihl, Executive Chef- Cypress, Charleston, SC
*advanced registration is required; see registration package.

Sat March 26th 3:30-5pm
Facing Ethical Issues in a Growing Market: The Importance of Transparency in Sourcing & Production
A panel discusses the importance of consistent and accurate messaging to consumers regarding product sourcing and production methods.
with:

Scott Marlow, Rural Advancement Foundation International
Berlin Reed, The Ethical Butcher
Ben Bergman, Fickle Creek Farm
V.Mac Baldwin, Baldwin Charolais Beef
Moderator: Casey McKissick, Coordinator, NC Choices

Sat March 26th 8-11pm
Butcher’s Guild Mixer at the Speedway Club


Sun March 27th
Artisanal Butchery and Whole Animal Utilization for Professional Chefs
A meat cutting class geared toward those in the industry, chefs will glean new methods for utilizing whole animals.
with:

Tia Harrison, Co-Founder-The Butcher’s Guild, Owner-Avedano’s Meat Market and Executive Chef-Sociale, San Francisco, CA
Marissa Guggiana, Co-Founder-The Butcher’s Guild, President of Sonoma Direct Sustainable Meats and Author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers
Craig Deihl, Executive Chef- Cypress, Charleston, SC

Meet Mark DeNittis!

Today is the first of many introductions to the faces behind the Butcher’s Guild. In the coming weeks, all of the charter members will be featured in similar posts. Get to know us!



Mark Matthew Michael DeNittis

Denver, CO
Il Mondo Vecchio – Salumi Founder/President
Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat: Foundations in Meat Fabrication Founder/President


How long have you been a butcher and where did you get your start?

Although I grew up around making wine and sausage it was nothing remotely professional, it was simply familial gatherings in the basement. My professional background emanates from predominately a classically trained culinarian turned educator turned USDA plant owner/operator. The butchery came from a sense of meeting budgetary goals as a culinary professional within industry as well professing it as an educator. The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach had three in house Butchers/Butcher department that fabricated 90% of all the hotels protein needs. However, I did not work in that department, simply being exposed to it laid a basic foundation and mindset for me that lasted throughout my career.

As I progressed within hotel/resorts, private clubs and even a guest ranch I fabricated as much in house as feasibly possible, the result in part contributed to a low food cost. Formerly though as a “butcher”, I took on the Meatcutting Curriculum in 2003 at Johnson and Wales University Denver. Having being been put in charge as the chair person of the Meat Cutting Curriculum for all four campuses one of my roles was working directly with my colleagues (fellow meat cutting instructors) to ensure what we were practicing/preaching in the classroom was relevant to industry’s expectations of a culinary student. From 2005 – 2009 I was the Chef Educational Consultant for the American Lamb Board authoring numerous educational materials, DVD’s, publications as well facilitating seminars on both basic fabrication and cooking skills. Lastly, I was the NAMP Meat Buyers Guide 6th Edition Revision Lamb Section Committee Chairperson.

Have you been working with “sustainable” meats the whole time and if not, what precipitated your shift in practices?

Sustainable…depending on how you look at it can mean as well be answered in a variety of ways. At its core though I feel sensible and practical both need to be considered when thinking sustainable. Sustainable must not only apply to the sourcing but as well have practicality within a business model. Over the years as a chef in the 90’s it wasn’t quite practical nor readily available. As I shifted from industry into education (2000) and in 2003 aligned with the meatcutting class I began to reach out to local producers. I was able to connect the university with several local small micro-ranches as well to be able to introduce and provide locally sourced half carcass and whole animals for the minimum 15 meatcutting classes we ran each year. It turned out to be a very sustainable, sensible and practical practice. Ultimately I was able to replicate what the butcher dept did at the Breakers Hotel. The meatcutting class, although not the primary goal, fulfilled the needs of 95% of all the cold and hot food production class needs. When a meatcutting class did not run, the university had to purchase from outside sources. To conclude, it was an outwardly sustainable practice that was sensible and practical creating a sustainable practice internally.

Having been in education and exposing well over 2300 students just at JWU alone to that from 2003 – 2010 and even now with the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat recreational and professional programs since 2010. Within our own business model at Il Mondo Vecchio, we are extremely mindful of being as sustainable in our practices as possible. With the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat and its host site, Cook St. School of Culinary arts and the new State Certificate and American Culinary Federation Continuing Education Accredited Butchery program, we will collaboratively continue on with that mindset.


I feel confident that our mindful choices continue to be what we as butchers/business owners/chefs contribute to the incremental shifts of sustainability in our professional and personal daily practices.


What do you think about the current media hype and attention on butchery, butchers and meat in general?


That is simple, to sum it up as we said growing up back east: “Whicked Awesome”!


What do you believe is the role butchers in the movement for a sustainable food system and what do you see as the biggest impediment to a truly sustainable meat industry?


I’d mirror my last statement about sustainability and as far as impediment….we are only bound by what we choose NOT to do. The choices we make… as well how we deliver and educate ourselves and our consumers is the only thing I see as being an impediment. In the bigger picture it won’t happen overnight but each day, week, month and year we work towards an improvement and a mindset or paradigm shift. The biggest concern and impediment I see and would address is the term “sustainable” itself becoming just another diluted marketing buzz word and instead of a true practice.

What does being a member of Butcher’s Guild mean to you?

It is was great growing up in the culinary industry having been a skilled craftsman/tradesman. More recently having continued my professional growth in working towards being an industry leader and expert within the meat industry, I am honored and excited about being a member, especially a charter member of the begining of an organization as such.

Your absolute favorite cut and preparation method/recipe:

I’m going to cheat and give two….1. I was a Beef Ribeye guy for years and in 2001 shifted to the Flat Iron 1114D Top Blade Steak and 2. sharing Rack or Rib Chops (a bone in ribeye) of American Lamb with my daughter.

As far as recipe…
Season with Sea Salt, Cracked Black Pepper and Granulated Garlic, grill to mark mooing or baaaahing rare.


 

Thanks to Mark DeNittis for his insightful response! The charter members of Butcher’s Guild reads like a who’s who of the meat world, many more introductions are yet to come.

Look forward to tomorrow’s Friday Feast post!

 

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