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Making Meat Local and Sustainable

Off the Cuff with Bavette La Boucherie’s Karen Bell

May. 2, 2017
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Photo credit: Mike Miller

Charmingly situated in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, Bavette La Boucherie (330 E. Menomonee St.) is a butcher shop and café specializing in local and sustainable meats, delicious soups, sumptuous sandwiches, flavorful salads, creative plates and desserts. Inspired by both her extensive travels and the subtleties of everyday life, chef and owner Karen Bell continues to produce excellent dishes by imaginatively utilizing local meats and ingredients. Bell spoke with Off the Cuff about her former restaurant in Madrid, Spain, the opening of Bavette, and the challenges of whole animal butchery.

Did you always want to be a chef?

No. I think I figured it out when I was at UW-Madison and I was studying to be an English teacher and, my third year in, decided that it wasn’t for me. At that point, I decided I would give culinary school a go and when I started I knew it.

I understand that you opened a restaurant in Spain. How did that come about?

I was living out in San Francisco and my sister was living in New York and we both wanted to go live abroad somewhere and we chose Spain. We moved there and it was initially going to be for a year to learn a new language and live abroad, but a year came and went. I started cooking when I was there and when the year came and went I wasn’t ready to leave, so I decided to stay until I didn’t want to. So after a few years of working in a restaurant, I decided I wanted to open my own restaurant there to cook the food I wanted to cook. There was no one cooking like that at the time and I started exploring it and found a space and was able to afford it and open it up.

So when did you decide to open Bavette?

I had moved back here and I wasn’t thinking about opening something after Spain. I was back here doing consulting and I realized that I would work just as hard for myself as I do for someone else. So I did get to a point where I knew I wanted to open a restaurant. At first it was going to be more of a restaurant than the butcher shop concept, but that changed after seeing the resources that we have in Wisconsin and being exposed to whole animal butchery and that having a resurgence around the country. So then I went more in the direction of the butcher shop, and the restaurant came a bit later. Over time, the restaurant was an opportunity to use the whole animal and that was something that was important to us.

How were you introduced to whole animal butchery? How is the method reflected on Bavette’s menu?

Bavette’s menu is completely designed around whole animal butchery. We started as a butcher shop and the restaurant started later. The restaurant came in part as a way to be able to continue receiving the whole animal and using it up in an effort to be sustainable. It is very difficult to sell the whole animal in a solely retail capacity. I would say only about 20% of the animal is sold through the case. The rest we use for our sandwiches and the menu. We also make pâtés, stocks, render the fat and make sausages with the trim. I began to become interested in whole animal butchery when I moved back to Wisconsin. Part of it had to do with being back in the state, another part with a growing resurgence of whole animal butchery across the U.S., and finally my growing interest to learn a new trade, my increased awareness of food politics, and also to continue my education and experiences.

Learn more about Bavette La Boucherie and view their daily menu at bavettelaboucherie.com.

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