Edible Cooks: Lamb

Photos by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty / Butcher shop photo courtesy of Catrine Kelty

Mon Père le Boucher

I remember the smell of our Montreal kitchen, the pots bubbling, my father in the middle of this orchestra whistling away while chopping, stirring and tasting. My parents shared the kitchen, something unusual for that generation, but for our family it made sense. My father was a butcher. Everything regarding meat was his domain.

That also meant we were raised eating many kinds of meat: chicken, beef and pork, of course, but also more “specialty” meats like quail, rabbit, goat and lamb. The latter was my favorite. We were introduced to lamb at a young age, watching my father not only cook it but butcher it into many cuts, from leg roasts to chops, kabobs and burgers.

I loved sitting at our table, watching him work, taking it all in. I was mesmerized by the flexibility of his wrists while the blade of his knife traveled back and forth on the steel. The speed and rhythm made it look dangerous, like an acrobatic act, but his hands were steady and confident. It was a ballet, it was perfection. Watching him transform a large piece of meat into steaks, roasts and stew meat by carving and cutting, while leaving clean white bones ready for stock, was artistry to me. Fascinated and intrigued, the whole process made me so proud of what my father was able to accomplish.

He learned the trade as a teenager back in France, outside of Paris, going through the many levels of the hierarchy of the profession. Before he could actually use a knife, he made the daily village delivery on a buggy pulled by a horse, and sometimes on a bicycle. It all sounds bucolic and romantic, especially when I look at the old black-and-white photos from that era, but it must have been hard for a boy of 14: away from home, waking up in the early hours of the morning, working long days with only Sundays off. I never heard my father complain about those days. He would reminisce about the camaraderie, working hard and anecdotes about village life.

It was no surprise that after years of living in Montreal my parents decided to pursue their dream and buy a little farmette outside the city. I was in my early teens by then, missing the walks to the local boulangerie and épicerie fine of our neighborhood. In exchange I saw my father fully at work. While managing the butcher shop in the city, my parents raised animals—chicken for meat and eggs, rabbits, ducks, geese, goats and sheep—as well as a garden, all components that would sustain the family though many seasons. I learned to pluck a chicken, gather eggs, feed animals, garden and can the produce. I also watched him slaughter, an act done with respect and gratitude.

My father was a butcher and also a lover of nature, a seed collector, a visionary and an artist who has given me the love and appreciation for food I’ve developed over the years. Were he alive today I am sure he would be a rock star butcher with his own YouTube channel. These four spring lamb recipes are a reflection of his influence on my cooking.

This story appeared in the Spring 2019 issue.