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Sep 25, 2017
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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A butcher’s daughter reflects on her father’s culinary legacy

Friday, September 8th, 2017

0831117_butchersdaughter

{ Marianne Moore with her father’s knives }

White paper, twine and knives. Some of the earliest memories I have of my dad are of white paper and twine and knives. Not the standard perhaps, but as a butcher’s daughter, it was a normal part of life for me.

When I was very young, my dad, Joe Kroupa, worked in a small grocery/meat market. He would come home from work with all kinds of meat – pork chops, steaks, braunschweiger, sausages – beautifully wrapped and perfectly tied. Even after he retired, he continued to trim the meat he bought at home, rewrap it with that white paper, tie it, label it and stack it in the freezer.

He was a butcher – that’s what he knew.

I’d see him in the kitchen, prepping some kind of roast, tenderloin or ham. Trimming, cutting, using his palms and fingers, the knife gliding through, then grabbing his twine to truss or tie, making those perfect little knots. On Thanksgiving, he carved the turkey like a surgeon, making just the right cut. Precise. Deliberate. Every move so effortless. The knife was an extension of his hand, and his skills were incredible.

For many years, he processed deer in our garage for friends during hunting season. It was fascinating to watch, but I didn’t think much about it until many years later. In my first week of culinary school, the chef gave us tasks to assess our skill level. Once, he handed me a beef tenderloin and asked me to get it ready for the oven. Without a second thought, I grabbed a cutting board, my knives and some twine, and I got to work.

I trimmed the chain, the silver skin, tucked the tail and tied it with butchers twine, just as I had seen my dad do for so many years. When the chef came to check my work, he fully expected to see a mangled tenderloin, rather than the one in front of him: perfectly prepped, seasoned and ready for the oven. He asked where I learned to do that. “Easy,” I said. “My dad was a butcher – I guess I paid attention.”

As I went through culinary school, my dad and I talked a bit about what I was doing, but we never cut meat together or really hung out in the kitchen. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I connected with Chris McKenzie of Mac’s Local Eats. He was sourcing meat for a small group that wanted to buy local grass-fed beef or local farm-raised pork. I remember my dad and me driving with McKenzie, coolers in the back, to pick up beef from a processor in Jackson, Missouri. We took a tour of the plant, and I watched my dad talk to the guys. Of course, since he was there, he had them cut meat to his specs. It gave me a view into his world, told me a bit more about who he was.

About a year later, a few chefs and I got together and bought a couple of pigs from a local farmer. “What are you going to do with that now?,” my husband asked in a bit of a panic on our way home. I smiled as I grabbed my phone. I told my dad to grab his knives and meet me at my house – I had a little project and needed his help. When he walked in and saw that pig on the kitchen island, his eyes lit up. We spent the whole afternoon breaking it down in my little kitchen. That day, something in our relationship shifted. I think we both realized how alike we were.

After that, we spent more time in the kitchen. We’d get together on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and make sausage. He would come over with the pork perfectly cut, and we’d play around with spices until the mix was just perfect. I was always on the grinder, and he was right there next to me, working his magic with the casing – getting in just the right amount of filling and making flawless links. Those days helped me realize I had been out of the kitchen too long. I was working in catering and events at the time, and during those moments with my dad, I knew I needed to do something, anything, to get cooking again. It’s what motivated me to take that leap and join Dierbergs Markets as culinary creative director. I think it made him happy to see I was back in the kitchen – teaching, writing recipes and sharing my love of food.

My dad passed away earlier this year, and I am so grateful to have spent that time cooking, talking and learning with him. It got me back in the kitchen, but it also made me realize that as much as I wanted my dad to be proud of me, he wanted me to be proud of who he was, too. I will always be proud to be the butcher’s daughter.

 

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Photo by Carmen Troesser

Marianne Moore is a contributor to Sauce Magazine and culinary creative director at Dierbergs Markets. 

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