How did you decide to become a butcher?
I was a very strong-willed young person who liked to challenge authority, and I refused to change the way I looked for any job. It turned out the only place that would employ me with the blonde and blue hair I had at the time was an abattoir, so that’s where I started my career.
Despite my tough attitude, I felt a lot of sympathy for the animals that were brought to the abattoir. I made the decision that, if I had to take the lives of these animals, I was going to do it with respect: using a technique that was quick and caused them the least suffering possible. The care and respect I showed in my work caught the attention of my superiors, and I was soon promoted to the position of butcher.
That experience and motivation sounds almost Zen-like. Did you carry that respectful approach over into your work as a butcher?
Absolutely. As you could see in my demonstration, I work very hard to preserve as much of the meat from an animal as possible. When I do this, I am motivated by the same respect as I was in my days at the abattoir. The animal gave its life so that we can eat, and I want to respect that sacrifice by not letting any part of it go to waste.
It reminds me of an expression we have in Japanese: mottainai. It means that we feel regret when anything is wasted. In North America, butchers and chefs seem to focus on the prime cuts of meat. They cook only these and discard the rest. I try to use everything I can from an animal, even if simply to create broth to flavour a curry or soup.
So, in addition to the concept of avoiding waste, is there anything else Canadian chefs could learn from Japanese cuisine?
One thing that has surprised me about North America is how large and thick the cuts are when chefs are preparing dishes like steak. When we are working with wagyu, there is so much flavour in the meat that you only need a small amount to appreciate it. Also, there are so many more ways to enjoy wagyu than just as a steak. I hope that North American chefs can embrace this and learn to use smaller amounts of meat to enhance a wider range of dishes.
Is there anything that you think Japanese chefs could learn from their North American counterparts?
I would like to see more Japanese chefs experimenting with the idea of fusion cuisine. In Japan, tradition is very powerful, and it can sometimes be challenging to change or experiment with traditional recipes. However, here in North America chefs are adventurous, and they experiment with combining traditional and nontraditional ingredients to great effect. For example, in New York I was served soba noodles paired with truffles and red wine. I would never have thought to serve soba in that way, but it was delicious!
What about Canadian cuisine specifically? Have there been any Canadian meals that have really stood out for you during your visit?
I have been really impressed by beef from Prince Edward Island, particularly with the masterful way it is prepared by Chef Danny at Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
It was my pleasure!