The Master Butcher, A Butcher With Heart
Joe Parejecki Standard Market
Having never met him, I got an inkling of Joe Parajecki when he picked me up at the train station in Westmont. On the back of his car was a bumper sticker, “ I ♥ Animals They’re Delicious!” and on the rear window, a sticker from The Butcher’s Guild, an organization which believes “good meat can change the world” and every member takes an oath to sell “good meat”. This is a guy who loves his animals and takes butchering seriously, keeping an eye on every aspect of the meat he sells and the customer. Joe Parajecki isn’t just a butcher, he is your butcher. He you’re go-to guy, when you walk into Standard Market.
Before we got to his office, the butcher block in front of the meat department, we stopped off at the Standard Market warehouse so Joe could inspect the latest shipments of meat. It became obvious to me the moment I stepped inside the huge facility, that the SM team is positioned for growth. We walked to the very back part of the huge, bright, clean, airy building and inside, yes, the meat locker but rather than a locker this was a huge room filled with crates of boxes stamped USDA Prime, Berkshire Natural Pork, “raised without Use of Antibiotics of Growth Hormones”. Joe wanted to check dates, supplies, I was getting this is a guy who cares about every aspect of the meat business and where his animals come from, how they were raised and what they were fed.
On the quick drive to the store in Joe’s “other office” his car (his home is in Waterford, WI 80 miles away), he rattled off tales of the different butchers he had connected with across the globe through Facebook and twitter or through the Butcher’s Guild network. Sausage recipes from Lithuania, Boerswurst from South Africa, cutting meat in Uganda, I think Joe has taken ‘social meat “ to a whole other level! Joe is a big guy and he is a one-man source of all things meat, it was hard for me to keep up with the stories and connections he had made through the “social” meat world. He talked about the whole issue of finishing off the animal, the last 30 days before processing and the very negative effects of undue stress or overuse of hormones on the animals. He did not buy meat from animals raised like that.
Once at Standard Market, I was amazed, I had heard of the store through other Chicago food connections but I just had not realized what a big operation it was all focused on good food yet convenience. It had the feeling of an artisanal state with different villages (the departments) knitted together underneath the high ceiling of blond wooden beams. Joe continued to reinforce through the tour of the store that they focused on making good food, convenient with options like the daily “What’s For Dinner Tonight” dinner for 2 to go, or the different bags of marinated meat ready to cook. The meat department was more like a meat family. Sausages, there were chicken cordon bleu and Italian sausages with giardiniera in the case( I bought both) Other cases were labeled, “ meat from Quarter Circle & Ranch”, packages read “grass fed”, “all meat procured within 300 miles” and one of the cases basically had almost every cut of the cow in one refrigerator case. Did I mention they make their own homemade jerky or have an incredible grill in the middle of the complex with hamburgers made with fresh baked buns and meat of course, sourced impeccably by Joe.
JB: How did you get into butchery?
Joe: “I grew up in a family where my father was a marine core drill instructor and then a fireman. I was originally in the restaurant business as a chef at hotels in the Milwaukee area. It was when my daughter was born, that the people at Roundy’s needed someone to run their meat department and knowing that I had been a chef and had cut meat offered me the job to run the meat and vegetable department. At Harris Teeter, their tagline was “it’s my Harris Teeter”. I learned how to engage the customer and retain customers. I know go by how long I have been in the meat business by my daughter’s age. After Harris Teeter, I went to Sendik’s that was all about selling meat. Now at Standard Market I run the Meat Department and our philosophy is all about engaging the customer and providing good food with convenience. I have 2 apprentices right now that I am training so that they will continue on with the butchering skills that I have learned. What was old is new again, and the art of butchering the animal itself rather than just boxed meat is returning. In a lot of the bigger chain stores, there might be a cutting machine in the meat department but it isn’t used. Our philosophy here is if it isn’t on the shelves we will make it or cut it for you. I have a thousand different sausage recipes, if we run out of one particular one, and the customer wants it, we will make it.
JB: What is your favorite cut of meat?
Joe: “There are so many cuts of meat I love. It just depends on the day, the time of year. Steak, prime rib, breaded pork chops, a good hamburger, turkey.” (I think Joe could have gone on and on for this one, perhaps the phrase, so many cuts and type of meat, such little time best summarizes his answer)
JB: What is good meat?
Joe: “Good meat starts with good people. It starts with the farmer and ends with the butcher and taking care of the processes along the way and how the animal is treated and how the primals are treated.”
JB: What makes a good butcher?
Joe: Either you have a passion about the business or you don’t. You care about what you do and enjoy what you do. Butchering is not a job it is a passion. I am a butcher not a meat cutter. One advice I have for new butchers is “ learn where your animals come from”. The knife becomes an extension of your hand.
JB: What is your advice to young butchers?
Joe: “God gave you one mouth and two ears, Listen to what customers are telling you, if you listen to old guys you will learn a lot of things that you won’t learn on your own.”
JB: Talk about grass fed beef.
Joe: We handle our grass fed beef differently. (He takes me to another small meat locker and I huge slabs of beef aging) I let our grass fed beef age and I think it develops better flavor since there is so little fat in the meat. When you are talking grass fed you really are talking the last 30 days before slaughter. Most animals range and eat grass for part of their life.
JB: What was the strangest question you have been asked by a customer?
Joe: “There have been a lot. One of the best is during the holidays and a customer asks around 11am, will this frozen turkey be done by 2pm today?” Another example is a customer holding a package of meat from a cooler filled with lots more packages of the same meat and asks, “Is this good? I want the good stuff from in back”
JB: If you were stranded on a desert island what meat would you eat?
Joe: Can I take a smoker? Okay, if not, I would roast a chicken.
I could go on and on relaying the information that Joe imparted My best suggestion is to visit Standard Market and talk to him, to make Joe Parajecki your butcher! Did I mention he was involved with the Boy Scouts for many years, his twitter handle is @CubmasterJoe, I mistakenly tweeted @CutmasterJoe for a master cutter he is, a Master Butcher with a big heart and he ♥ his meat!!