They're a cow's worst nightmare and a beef lover's best friend: an American and a Frenchman teaching young chefs how to raise -- and cut -- meat in a new way.
At New York's Meat Hook, an all-in-one food shop, kitchen ware supply store and laboratory for culinary experiments, the two knife wielders carved up half a cow before an enthralled audience of chefs looking to hone their own skills.
AdvertisementTom Mylan and Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec met last year as part of a French documentary on worldwide cattle raising practices and, although they have different techniques, they found they have much in common.
Mylan runs Meat Hook and is a partner with natural beef raising farms that are a far cry from the industrial feedlots producing much of America's meat. Le Bourdonnec is famous for his carving skills and owner of Le Couteau d'argent butchery in Asnieres, outside Paris.
He's not just a beef expert but an aficionado of flesh in all forms, posing naked each year for a calendar given to his clients.
Within 20 minutes, the so-called "Bohemian Butcher" and his three assistants had transformed a carcass into neatly arranged cuts, from filets and faux-filets to entrecotes and rump steak, as well as the exotic "picanha", a Brazilian-style cut.
Certainly the Frenchman won the day in terms of variety and delicacy of cuts. The American came out with an electric saw that he used rapidly to cut off large pieces around their bone in the style of T-bone steaks.
"In France we protect the breeds and we haven't got feedlots, so raising beef costs a lot. The animals reach maturity in 40 months, compared to 24 to 28 in the United States," Le Bourdonnec told an admiring audience.
"That's why when it comes to butchery, we separate all the muscles and we make use of everything. We can't afford to lose a single piece of meat."
Mylan, despite his more fast-food approach to butchery, said interest is growing in the kind of cuisine demonstrated by Le Bourdonnec's slow skills.
"Here in the United States people are more and more interested by the origin of the beef and how it was raised. The animal has to be raised in the right way, pasture fed most of its life, not in feedlots, no more hormones and less and less on grains," he said.
Mylan says he's been trying to preach this message to the big cattle breeders in the north-east region, telling them there is money in such an approach.
"As the demand grows, the supply grows, and there is a growing amount of farmers," he said.
Le Bourdonnec's dream is to start a butchery school where students will learn how to "play with the fibres and textures." He says that meat consumption is falling in France, but with a shift to higher quality.
Already the Frenchman has linked up with Italy's "Poet Butcher" Dario Cecchini and he plans to go to Japan, home to Kobe, and what many see as the tastiest form of beef of all.