1:35 pm Sep. 10, 2012
On Saturday, around 2,600 people showed up for Meatopia, a carnivalesque celebration of meat on Randall’s Island that some have dubbed “The Woodstock of Animals.”
Now in its ninth year, the festival drew an array of celebrity chefs, from barbeque god Adam Perry Lang to “Iron Chef” Marc Forgione to April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig. The grounds were divided into meat-focused “neighborhoods,” like Deckle District, Offalwood, and Carcass Hill. Pig and goat carcasses revolved on spits. Bones were strewn all over the grounds. It was, safe to assume, a vegetarian’s vision of hell.
Amidst this apocalyptic landscape, the organic-minded supermarket chain Whole Foods held a competition to crown the “Best Butcher in the United States.” The competitors had been selected from the approximately 1,600 butchers at Whole Foods across the country, and whittled down to three after months of regional competition. The finalists included Jon “Kabali” Kalabolas of Lafayette, Calif.; Andy “The Animal” Alcorn of Fort Collin, Colo; and Armand “The Arm” Ferrante of Middletown, N.J.
Over the course of the afternoon, the men battled it out in a series of knife-wielding challenges. They made a Turducken by deboning a turkey and a chicken and adding a duck breast. They “merchandised” an entire lamb, cutting it down to its “primal cuts” (leg, rack, chop, shoulder, breast). Finally, they created what Whole Foods called a “new-to-the-meat-case cut” from a beef forequarter.
Competition was fierce. But in the end, Ferrante prevailed—partly on the basis of his Jersey Boneless Shortrib, a juicy cut he created for the contest, and which will debut at Whole Foods starting September 15 for $8.99 a pound.
In an interview on Monday, Ferrante, 57, clarified that he did not exactly “create” the Jersey Boneless Shortrib.
“I mean, that shortrib has been on the carcass forever—it’s not as if I abracadabra’d it,” he said with a laugh. “I just made more of an existing cut of meat.”
Ferrante has worked as a butcher for 40 years, but has been with Whole Foods only since December 2011. Rumors that the Middletown market brought him in as a ringer have gone unsubstantiated.
Ferrante's father owned a butcher shop in Philadelphia that he eventually took over before relocating to New Jersey. The two of them used to attend livestock auctions together, bidding directly on the animals, though this practice is no longer common today in the increasingly fashionable world of butchery.
Ferrante is aware of the trend. “I watched a program about that place the Meat Hook on TV,” he said, referring to the well-trafficked three-year-old butcher shop in Williamsburg. “I’ve been trying to get over there. They could use a little help.”
The toughest aspect of the competition, Ferrante said, was merchandising the lamb. And not just any lamb, but an especially tender Icelandic lamb that is only in season from September to November, and that Whole Foods has secured the exclusive rights to sell in the U.S.
Not coincidentally, the award for the “Best Butcher” came with an all-expenses-paid trip to Iceland, during that country’s annual Food & Fun festival in February 2013.
“How about that?” Ferrante said. “I didn’t even think there was a prize until they told me.”
He added that the trip will allow him to get a closer look at the mythic Icelandic lamb.
“It’s rated a five in the Whole Foods’ Five-Step program,” he said. “It’s grazed. It’s not force-fed. It’s really a beautiful, beautiful piece of meat.”
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