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Of course, you used to be able to ask your corner butcher, a neighborhood fixture until the 1960s, when the consolidating meat industry moved animals onto corporate feedlots. Butchery moved to the slaughterhouse, where workers each made one cut on hundreds of carcasses a day on a fast-moving dis-assembly line. With notable holdouts like Drewes Bros. Meats in Noe Valley, the neighborhood butcher died out, and the art of whole-animal butchery was lost. "Most butchers in America, the only knife they use is a box-cutter," announced Anya Fernald, CEO of Belcampo Farms, while emceeing the Eat Real contest.
Budworth learned the craft the old-school way, 25 years working in a few surviving butcher shops in Santa Cruz and Oakland. But then, in the last couple of years, his job started becoming a thing. Respected chefs who'd been cutting down whole animals in their kitchens started opening butcher shops. (Boetticher; Tia Harrison at Avedano's Holly Park Market; Aaron Rocchino at Berkeley's The Local Butcher Shop.) People started asking how to become a butcher. Dave realized he had to jump on the "fleischgeist" — a term coined by Meatpaper, a San Francisco-based magazine launched in 2007 — or lose out. "I'm a butcher. That's the only thing in my life I can claim. I'm not going to let some chef take it away."
Budworth started to market "Dave the Butcher" from his meat website, and picked up teaching and demo gigs. He's looking for an agent to do a book or TV. Last year, he became a charter member of the Butcher's Guild, a collective of artisanal butchers nationwide who pay $175 to $375 and sign an oath to work with grass-fed whole animals from local farms. In return, they get a network — 50 members since May.
That's critical, since there are few places to formally learn butchery, meaning many of the new school are self-taught, says Guggiana, a co-founder of the guild. "There's a lot of holes in everyone's education, and there's just the desire to connect to share ideas and commiserate and bond." The guild plans to open a butcher training program in the Bay Area in 2012.
Unlike Dave, some butchers resist the new movement. "It feels cliquish to me," says David Samiljan, the self-styled "cranky New Yorker" owner of Baron's Meat & Poultry in Alameda. He refused to join the guild, but if pressed, he admits he shares their beliefs about good meat and is jealous of their press coverage. "I'm never going to be one of these tattooed, unshaven schmucks you see in a magazine. I'm never going to be butcher chic. I'm a butcher. Cut your fucking meat and shut up!
"You want to talk to a real butcher, you talk to Oscar," he continues. "He's a better butcher than all of them combined, I promiseyou that."
When Yedra started, "rock-star butcher" would have sounded like the name of a punk band. Yedra's dad handed him a knife to cut the meat off a beef bone when he was 7 years old. It was the family's trade, and in 1970s Mexico City, Yedra helped in his father's butcher shop after school. "My dad taught us how to hold the knife, how to clean the bone," Yedra says, his hands carving the air before him. He and his four brothers would go with his father to the slaughterhouse at 3 a.m. to pick the best carcasses, and Yedra was hooked. "I'm like, wow, my dad has big arms," he says, chuckling. "When you're a kid, you try to be like your dad. That was one of the things I liked."
At 45, Yedra has built up his arms with a routine of 225-pound bench-presses to keep him in shape to handle hulking hunks of meat. The physically demanding work is the reason his nephew, Renato, would prefer to return to Mexico and study accounting or "some line of work that isn't so hard on you."
While the butcher resurgence glorifies an old-fashioned, hands-on craft, to the Yedras, it's a tough, blue-collar job. Oscar and his brothers saved money from their Bay Area butcher jobs to wire to their youngest brother in Mexico for law school, and Oscar hopes his own 10-year-old son will become a doctor or lawyer. Butchery "is something our family has done for a long time," Renato says, "but any logical person would want to better oneself."
Oscar never wanted to do anything else. On weekends, the teenage Yedra would wait on customers at his dad's mobile stand in Mexico City's tony neighborhoods. Oscar was a natural with a knife, using what he calls "the amazing skill" to indulge the señoras' request to cut a kilo of beef into 30 carne asadas by hand. Yedra rebuffed his parents' desire that he go to college and opened his own butcher stand. "They were so mad with me: 'You don't know what you're doing! You're gonna work your whole life!'"
In the late '80s, his older brother Juan was rushed to the hospital with serious burns from a car crash. Oscar sold his market permits to help pay the hospital rehabilitation bills and headed to San Francisco in 1991 to get a job to wire money home. He would meet up with his older brother Miguel, vacationing here at the time of the accident, who had then ditched architecture school for a gig at Golden Gate Meat Company's SOMA cutting floor.