As a kid growing up in France, butchers to my eyes did not seem to be happy-go lucky lads.
On November 1st, I had the pleasure to meet Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, a fun loving Boucher (butcher) from Asnieres (near Paris). I interviewed him before and after a session on the Art of French Meat Cuts at Meat Hook (Brooklyn Kitchen) in Brooklyn. Yves-Marie showed French style versus American power side by side with Tom Mylan.
Here is what the gentle man had to share.
Q: Yves-Marie, how long have you been in the trade?
Q: Did you own shops in other cities than your current one, Asnieres?
No, I actually have owned only one shop, Le Couteau d'Argent. I hit a road bump in 2005. After taking associates on board, they wanted me to change the way I worked and ran the business. I was against it and in the ensuing breakup lost most of my possessions including my house.
Q: Was your outlook changed after these bumps in the road?
Definitely, the material loss, all the stress that had been building up in that rocky time, made me decide at age 40 that life was too short to be used working in ways you despise. From then on, I have only spent time on things that are fulfilling. Pleasure came out of misadventure.
Q: Were you born in Brittany?
Actually, I was born in Paris but my family is originally from Treguier.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your training?
I went to Ecole de la Boucherie (Butcher School) in Rennes.
Q: What led you to choose this profession?
My uncle and aunt had a farm in Brittany. From time to time, they hired a butcher to turn one of their animals into edible cuts. I was fascinated by his gestures, the 'theater' of it and decided then and there what I would do with my life.
Q: So butchers were not part of the family tradition?
Actually, I lost my mother when I was young and discovered later in life that there were generations of butchers on her side of the family.
Q: Was any butcher a mentor to you?
Nobody made me professionally who I am today. I followed my own path. I felt the profession was dated, fossilized and needed fresh blood, new energy.
Q: Can you spell in one sentence what you want to offer?
I want to give customers meat that does not destroy the planet, is in tune with gastronomy and is a pleasure to eat.
Q: You recently finished filming a TV program for a French channel, can you tell us how it happened?
Anthony who is present this evening wanted to document where the best sustainable meat could be found around the world. I was one of the names on his list of 'anchors' for the program. Since it would be a lengthy process, he wanted to work with someone he could get along with. We met, things clicked and we hit the road. The TV crew went to many countries including the US, Canada (I was not there), Brazil including Expo Zebu, a big meat fair (in Minas Gerais) and Spain where I get my Wagyu beef from. There were also stops in the Netherlands and in France, visits to Aubrac and to chef Yannick Alleno who is big on locally sourced 'natural' ingredients.
The 90 minutes documentary that came out of our explorations will be shown on Canal Plus (a 'French HBO') on December 15, 2010
Q: Is the Wagyu beef you sell massaged? Does it get treated to beer?
No massage or beer, but my friend in Spain gives them red wine.
Q: Are you a restaurant purveyor?
All I do for restaurants is share my advice on where to source their meat from, good cuts and that type of things. I only sell retail.
Q: Which cuts are your clients favorites?
I would say Cotes de Boeuf and Entrecotes.
Q: Any problems with animal activists?
I never experienced any conflicts or incidents with them.
Q: Favorite dishes besides meat?
Dorade with butter sauce.
Q: Was there meat on the menu at Noma when you visited recently?
Not much, I was impressed though. I have a vivid memory of Rene Redzepi's rendition of 'the beach in Copenhagen', unbelievable flavors.
Q: With your meal, wine or beer?
Wine, it has to be white, it has to be Condrieu, my favorite.
Q: Any combination of Meat with Cognac, Armagnac or Whisky you would suggest?
To drink no, a cheesemaker though inspired me to age a 'train de cotes' wrapped in a Japanese cloth soaked with whisky. I change the cloth every week during the aging process.
Q: Name 2 of your favorite restaurants in Paris?
Right now, L'Ami Jean and Frenchie
Q: When you eat a hamburger, bread (bun) or no bread, ketchup or mustard?
No bread, mustard.
Q: Do you agree with 'Nose to Tail' philosophy, using the whole animal?
French butchers get value out of each cut of meat because meat is more expensive in France.
This gives me a chance to get creative and find uses for everything.
Q: How do you approach meat cutting?
I believe in geometry of fibers. I take all the nerves out so every ounce of meat can be tender and edible.
Q: Any big difference in meat cutting in the US and France?
Where American butchers use saws and brute force at times, French butchers like myself work skilfully, with knives and finesse.
Q: In your opinion where can the best beef be found?
I have to say that you find better meat in the UK, Japan and the US than in France,
Q: Do you have a book in the works?
Yes, indeed. I will collaborate with Blandine Vie, a very talented French writer who penned many tomes including Testicules, Fete des Paires ('testicles') on my first book to be published by French editor Glenat in 2011.
Q: To conclude, were you chasing fame, celebrity status or did fame find you?
I was not looking for fame in France. I use my 'celebrity' status to promote good craft and shine a new light on the 'boucher' profession. If I can make being a butcher look cool and inspire youngsters to follow in my shoes, I'll be a happy man.
I am not chasing endorsements and interviews. I talk to people I want to talk to. I don't have an agent making decisions for me. I am my own man.
Thanks also to Ariane Daguin of D'Artagnan for finding space for us in Yves-Marie busy schedule. D'Artagnan sponsored these Meet the Meat sessions and provided the Beef these guys worked on.
(* photos live and on the scene at Brooklyn Kitchen on Monday)