Chef found his calling as a butcher
Fork. Spoon. Life. Joe Parajecki
In the south side neighborhood where Joe Parajecki grew up, all his friends wanted to be firefighters and police officers. He never wanted to be anything but a chef.
Then he became a dad, and everything changed. Becoming a butcher made sense. He still got to work with food, but he had time for family.
Building upon nearly 30 years in the food industry, 18 as a butcher, Parajecki teamed up with Black Earth Meats and became operations manager and a partner in Kettle Range Meats, which began selling at farmers markets. Just over a year ago, the partners opened a storefront at 5501 W. State St. selling grass-fed, pastured and dry-aged meats and meal kits. Within the first year, they’ve grown from three employees to 11.
Parajecki lives in Waterford with his wife, Debra, and their children, Lauren and Jacob.
Becoming a butcher
I actually was a chef. It was the first year of my daughter’s life. Her first birthday, everyone’s talking about what she did her first year. I realized the only thing I ever saw her do was sleep. I literally came home and she was sleeping. I left for work, she was sleeping.
I quit my job the next day. For three months, Lauren took every nap on my chest.
Then my wife told me I had to get a job.
We were living in Muskego, shopping at Pick ’n Save. … At that time Roundy’s was rolling out old-fashioned butcher cases. I’d started my apprenticeship meat cutting so I had experience.
Both my grandmothers lived with us at one point. They cooked. I remember being on the stool next to the stove. I wanted to be a chef. Most kids wanted to be a fireman or policeman. My dad was a fireman. I heard the horror stories of his job at every dinner.
Sustainability and steak
I went to MATC for culinary arts. We were the No. 2 cooking school in the country back then. The Culinary Institute of America was the only one ranked above us. We trained some topnotch chefs.
I pay that back now. MATC comes here and I do butcher demonstrations, either whole hog butchery or I put a cow back together in pieces and parts.
It’s a way to teach chefs. Not to pull out my soapbox, but there is only one hanging tenderloin per cow. But everyone has to have one on the menu. It’s an awareness thing for these young chefs. We have to start thinking about sustainability.
Give ’em a steak, a pork chop and some sausage and most Milwaukeeans are happy. We sell a lot of burgers, and people are getting more adventurous, but at the end of the day rib-eye steak is still my No. 1 seller.
What we’re doing at Kettle Range is different from 99% of the places in the area. We’re sourcing animals. We’re not sourcing boxes. Most butcher shops, when the butcher wants rib-eyes or pork, he orders boxes. Here it is how many rib-eyes do we think we’re going to sell? Then I have to go find the animals. I also have to think a few weeks ahead, because we’re dry-aging meats.
It’s amazing how many people come into the shop and want to buy a high-end piece of meat but don’t know how to cook it. Let’s teach you. I don’t want you to ruin it. I’m always amazed at Thanksgiving at how many people come in and want to know how to cook a turkey. I’d say about a third of the people don’t know how to cook a turkey.
We’re a whole animal shop. We sell the tongue, the cheek, the ox tails, the liver, the kidney. If I was working somewhere other than the ethnic grocery stores, I would never have sold an ear or a beef liver. There are no more strange requests for me.
I can do anything with a boning knife and a steak knife. Those are my tools. I rent knives for the guys (at Kettle Range). There is one blue-handled knife in the place. That’s mine. They all know it and can’t touch it.
I’m still a traditional south sider, a Milwaukeean. I love a good hamburger. We have steak and burgers once a week. I have a culinary background, I worked fine dining, but that is not the food I crave. I want the traditional comfort food. Meatloaf and breaded pork chops, those are my babies.
Perks of the job
It’s hard for me to go out to eat. I have access to the best stuff. If I’m cutting a rib-eye and it’s prime grade, look at the marble, perfect age, I’m never going to get that in a restaurant. Not without spending a small fortune. There are advantages to being the butcher.
Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the everyday relationship that local notables (within the food community and without) have with food. To suggest future personalities to profile, email email@example.com.