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Chef Steve Mitton at Murray Street Restaurant, part of Ottawa's bustling food scene. Photo: Lucy Martin
Chef Steve Mitton at Murray Street Restaurant, part of Ottawa's bustling food scene. Photo: Lucy Martin

Canadian brings a European sensibility to the "new" eat local movement

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Last week, David Sommerstein reported that a shortage of meat cutters and slaughterhouses is a limiting factor in the growing trend to eat local. He visited New York State's only certification program for butchers, at SUNY Cobleskill. (see link below)

Turns out Americans across the country are learning the details about how their meat is butchered. Many self-described foodies are taking classes where they work with experienced butchers, donning aprons and using cleavers, saws and hatchets to cut up slaughtered pigs and other animals.

Organizers say the classes indicate the public's growing interest in how the food they eat affects their health and the planet. They say that interest is driving more people to shop at farmers markets and even raise chickens in their backyards.

Canadian chef Steve Mitton, co-owner and head chef of Murray Street Restaurant in Ottawa's Byward Market, is part of that broad culinary movement.

Mitton's kitchen combines creativity with efficiency, using techniques he learned from butchers in Germany, where eat local is nothing new. He told Lucy Martin his apprenticeship was kind of an accident.

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Steve Mitton was 13 years old when he first learned about butchering on a military base in Germany. "It started as pretty much just scrubbing the place down, at the end of the shifts," he said. "And then working my way up."    

Mitton watched as the German butchers turned away commercial meat vendors and purchased their cuts only from local farmers. "They would have nothing to do with it. So, they just wanted to see the guy that raised the pigs, and that was it. So they knew that it was safe, and they knew where it was coming from."

Mitton learned how to butcher in the German style and didn't realize how different it was until he took a butchery class in Prince Edward Island. "We were breaking down animals and I started breaking one down and the chefs were looking at me like I was a little strange. But one of the German chefs kind of told the guy, 'No, no wait a minute.  I know what he's doing!'"

In North America, says Mitton, butchers usually don't use the whole head, liver or kidneys. But he's slowing introducing these varieties into his restaurant where the butchering produces zero waste. Patrons, he says, are surprisingly open to the resultant new foods--"they come here expecting to be eating something that they never normally would, and to have their eyes opened a little bit to new ways of cooking, to new ways of eating, basically. And, hopefully, that will translate into new ways of shopping."

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