The best piece of meat
George Marsh ever tasted was also one that had been butchered before his eyes.
He was working at the Maryland Club. On occasion the head chef would purchase whole steers, pigs, and lambs to butcher.
"I had never seen anything like that before," says Marsh, the 32-year-old head butcher for Woodberry Kitchen. "I couldn't wait to get in there and do something."
He didn't have to wait long. One day Marsh was cleaning up some of the meat, removing the silverskin-the rubbery, opaque connective tissue found on most prebutchered meats-and portioning cuts. The head chef tossed some lamb chops at Marsh and instructed him to throw them on the grill.
"I have blood on my hands, a carcass on the table. These little lamb chops were just so amazing," he says. "It was just really well-raised meat that was being butchered in a really cool way, and I felt connected to it. When I left there I knew I wanted to open a place that did something like that."
Marsh will have his chance in a few weeks when Parts & Labor opens. The latest establishment from Woodberry Kitchen proprietor Spike Gjerde, Remington's Parts & Labor will be split. One half of the 5,000-square-foot space will be a restaurant and bar that seats 84 where food will be cooked in front of patrons on a wood-burning hearth and 24 different beers will flow from an upstairs keg cooler. The other half is Marsh's domain, a shop for whole-animal butchery where he'll cut all the meats used at Woodberry Kitchen and Parts & Labor, and where customers can buy cuts of meat ranging from $5 to $30 per pound.
But Marsh, perhaps, is most excited to expose customers to what he considers lost cuts of meat-bavette, coulotte, bottom-blade, flat-iron, the kinds not available in the grocery store-and the artfulness of whole-animal butchery. And, in his telling, butchery
Before Marsh decided on a career change in the middle of the last decade, he was a college art student in Alabama. He had worked in restaurants throughout high school-he grew up in Bel Air, Md.-but was convinced he would be an artist. He changed his major to industrial design when he "realized I probably wasn't going to make any money in the art field," but still he wasn't satisfied.
"I liked working in kitchens," Marsh says. "I was becoming more interested in food."
So he dropped out of college, moved back to Maryland, and attended culinary school at Baltimore International College (now Stratford University). After a few years of working at the Maryland Club, he got a job as a line cook at Woodberry Kitchen in 2009, then, after six months, moved up to co-chef de cuisine, helping oversee a kitchen of 30 cooks. At the time, Woodberry was buying cuts of meat rather than whole animals. "It wasn't a whole lot different from what anybody else was doing," he says.
Marsh pushed for whole-animal butchery instead. He first butchered a male meadow calf-an animal most often ground down into dog food or fertilizer-but really cut his chops during a workshop in New Jersey with Austrian master butcher Christoph Wiesner, who showed Marsh the craft of seam butchery: using knives and handsaws, and no large automated saws, to break down animals.
"His butchery style was extremely compelling, watching him not waste any tiny bit," he says. "Every little bone was white when he was done."
It's that form of butchery that Marsh has practiced for four years, and the type he'll employ, along with five other butchers, at Parts & Labor. Free-range beef, hogs, lambs, and goats will come from Maryland and Pennsylvania farms. A hanging room will hold almost 10,000 pounds of animal carcasses; the meat stored there will be dry-aged for up to a month. A salt house for curing sausages, hams, and other meats sits next door. Beside that, a room for aging cured meats. The equipment alone impresses: a sizable wood butcher's block, a meat mixer that can crank out 200 pounds of sausage at a time, and a bandsaw-something Marsh will have for the first time that he quickly points out will be used for cutting through bones, as well as for ensuring precise weights so meat entrees at the new restaurant won't deviate in price.
Because for Marsh, it isn't about chopping filet cuts as speedily as possible. He worries whether animals destined for slaughter were well-raised. His concern is about whether meat is "artfully, skillfully" butchered.
"What we do is beautiful," he says. "When you have something butchered, you appreciate the animal more."