Carving out a New Niche: Meat the Celebrity Artisans

Butchers, bakers and cheese makers are honing their skills and carving out a niche for themselves on the French culinary scene.
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piece of a grilled steak on a...
piece of a grilled steak on a...

Celebrity chef? Sure. But what about a celebrity butcher?

Welcome to the age of haute butchery, haute fromagerie and haute pâtisserie, where just like haute couture, there are collections that change seasonally and price tags to match.

The culture of the celebrity chef is something that many of us have grown up with. It's totally normal to see Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse appearing on late night talk shows, or their faces gracing magazine covers.

But a new age is coming.

Move over celebrity chefs, the celebrity artisans have arrived. Carving their way into celebrity chefdom, top butchers and bakers are dueling it out in the culinary domain of their artisanal choosing, and only the best of the best are rising to fame.

Overworked Cattle

A recent NY Times article took a cleaver to France's favorite main dish, steak-frites, denouncing French cattle as 'work animals' and unfit for their otherwise refined palates. Contrary to the contemporary local work ethic, French cows traditionally worked more than 35 hours a week which is why the more muscular species proved popular. Breeds were also selected for their capacity to produce milk rather than the taste of their meat and as a result, French cows noticeably lack the flavor-boosting fat found in their American counterparts. Hence the opportunity for butchers such as Yves Marie Le Bourdonnec to beef things up a bit.

Le Bourdonnec is the bad boy of French butchers. Despite the stir caused by a risqué photo shoot where he posed naked with his meat, he's mostly known for introducing American and British beef to the Gallic dinner table. And one can only imagine how well the French took to this invasion of Yankee beef. His butcheries showcase Porterhouse T-bones and Black Angus, more likely to be found in a Texan steakhouse than a Parisian bistro.

In addition to their superior breeds, Americans prefer to age their beef to enhance flavor and promote tenderness -- a tradition that is only now being embraced by the French. And voila, a culinary gap is filled and the celebrity butcher is born. Le Bourdonnec's steaks are all matured for a minimum of 60 days, a concept that the locals usually find more shocking than appetizing. So not only are these celebrity butchers changing the menu, but they're also making aged meat an easier bite to chew.

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The Death of the One-Stop Shop

More and more artisans are gaining notoriety, and rightfully so. They are responsible for putting the 'art' back into culinary arts. Butchers, bakers and cheese makers are honing their skills and carving out a niche for themselves on the French culinary scene.

While Americans embrace one-stop grocery shopping, the French prefer to traverse the city in their quest for the recently elected 'best Parisian baguette of 2014', to eat with their salted butter and seasonal, hand-ripened, artisanal Brie. They're willing to pay 240 €/kilo for the finest cuts of aged Wagyu beef, and snap up Pierre Hermé's new season of garden-themed macarons to wow their friends faster than you can say ooh la la.

In an age where every pot and pan has a famous chef's face plastered on the box, it's reassuring to know that a specialized artisan can create an amazing product and gain notoriety for it. And how could it not be the best when only the finest ingredients and the most traditional processes have been used - all with the final goal of creating, for example, a steak that makes you feel like it's the first time you're ever really eating meat? And that's why most Parisians find the staggering price tag worth it.

The Glamour of Manual Labor

Le Bourdonnec recently released a video inviting young employees tired of their boring desk jobs to quit and become butchers. It's this very call to arms that marks the difference between specialized artisans like Le Bourdonnec and 'classic' celebrity chefs. Artisans are extremely focused on passing the torch to apprentices because without them their craft would die. All great French artisans are credited with spawning famous apprentices, some of whom have gained reputations surpassing their mentors. They go on to open their own boutiques, and in turn train the next generation. Not only are they taught the secrets of the trade, but they are often given a stake in the business, thereby ensuring their personal involvement and instilling a lifelong drive to succeed. After all, who wouldn't work day and night when both their livelihood and their mentor's reputation are at stake?

All this is the very essence of luxury -- the personal touch, the face behind the product, the involvement of generations to come -- plus the extremely high-quality source products and ingredients. This is as top of the line as it gets.