A Morning at Wagshal’s Market

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Originally published in 2013:

I recently interviewed and then “shadowed” the head butcher at an exclusive butcher shop in Washington DC. I didn’t get the job by-the-way. I’m not at all sore about it, just a bit disappointed. Was I ready to make the move away from the South I have grown to love, maybe not but I had to check it out for the opportunity?

I shadowed the head butcher, Pam. She was impressive in her intimate knowledge and skill and as she said to me, “this isn’t a job it is my life.” It was immediately obvious that she deeply cared about what she was doing, her snide comments about the rest of the staff aside I felt there was a lot I could learn from her if given the chance. Which of course you know I didn’t get – but no sour grapes here. After a quick interview of my interest and knowledge of meat cuts, butcher experience, etc. (Ahem that would be none really, but I had bluntly told them I had never been professionally trained. They are the ones that told me they were interested in me due to my passion for the subject. Maybe I should mention writing a good cover letter is really a plus when applying for a job.) she quickly moved on to preparing the morning orders to be picked up.

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I shadowed, which means I observed while I asked a few questions. I’m not sure if these were a nuisance in retrospect, but she appeared more than happy to answer any of my questions. One thing was obvious, she loved to talk, to talk about meat and maybe most of all how good she was as a butcher and salesperson. The first order of business that morning was to trim and tie a beef tenderloin and cut beef short ribs. It was riveting watching her work with such ease and grace. It was obvious she deeply cared about what she was doing as she told me with pride of her 103 day dry aged porterhouse steaks she had for sale. She did sell one while I was there, an inch and a half thick for a little over $80. The price seemed a little stiff to me, but what did I know about 103 day dry aged prime porterhouses. Better be a damn good piece of meat for that price and still needing to be cooked. I wondered how good of a cook the man buying the steak was, did he do the cooking? His wife? Did he have a private chef?

After the man left she turns, “I told you I’d sell all those steaks this morning,” she grins and she had told me so. I’ve never minded someone with a big ego as long as they have the talent to back it up which Pam clearly did. “I could sell ice to an Eskimo or sand to an Arab.” Okay I have to admit that comment was a little over the top, but what the hell she was proud of the sale and why not that is a damn expensive steak. I wonder how much the man is willing to pay for a steak at a fancy steakhouse. I wonder if that day was special or does he not even blink twice about paying that much for a steak.

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“I’m the best butcher you’ll ever know. I won a butcher competition where there were 57 men and myself. I cut down a whole side of pork in twenty-five minutes. The guy next to me only had two trays done.” Ah, Pam I’ll miss your stories even if they are a bit self-absorbed. I highly recommend Wagshal’s Market for your meat procuring, so long as you have the unlimited budget to afford it. I hope to be back someday when I can afford a 103 day aged porterhouse, maybe then I can tempt my vegan relatives to try at least a bite.

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