Yesterday, The Meat Hook opened, and we ran an interview with butcher Tom Mylan about the meats he’s selling there, the tribulations of being called a “rock star butcher,” and why butchering isn’t as cool as you think it is.
Read on to check out the second half of the interview, in which Mylan discloses that he (theoretically) owns a boat with the guys from Roberta’s, sometimes listens to Kelly Clarkson while butchering, his favorite places to eat in Brooklyn, and how he really feels about celebrity chefs.
It seems like there’s a tension inherent in the artisanal movement: Although these products really are better, only the upper-middle class can afford them. How do you feel about that?
Part of the thing behind the Meat Hook is to make better meat more affordable. Our ground beef is $5.99 a pound, which is not cheap, but it’s still cheaper than the grass-fed stuff from Whole Foods, and it’s significantly cheaper than the farmer’s market. We’re a lot cheaper than the farmer’s market, and I think in general our quality is higher, only because it hasn’t been frozen. I don’t think it should be just for the upper-middle class. I came from a working class background. I grew up poor at the end of a dirt road. People who are lower-middle class are my people, and those people should be able to eat well.
The other thing is that the price of meat is artificially low. If you go back and look at the price per pound in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, adjusted for inflation, those prices would be surprisingly high, in line with the prices we charge. People used to spend more money on food. People paid the true price of what something cost. It was more of a true market economy, with no subsidies, nothing pushed artificially low.
I agree with you, but it’s a hard argument to make to people who are living paycheck to paycheck–that we should pay more for food.
Yeah, and it’s also a cultural thing. As food in general got artificially cheaper, and we got more processed food products, the element of home economics got lost. Fifty years ago, people ate more at home. You got a chicken, and you fed your family on that for two or three days, using it in different ways. The economics of home economics isn’t something we do anymore. We’ve un-trained ourselves as Americans.
On the other hand, there’s the Food Network, and sometimes they actually show cooking. Americans are getting back into cooking, the same way they’re starting to think about where their meat and produce comes from.
Along with Chris and Brandon from Roberta’s, we threw in some money together and bought a sailboat, and we were all going out one day, and stopped to pick up a bunch of stuff at the East New York Community Garden Project. They have a farmer’s market, they compost, and it’s total hippie stuff. But it’s not weird to them; it’s not hippie farming; it’s people from Trinidad or Jamaica, growing vegetables the same way they did back home, growing and selling it to themselves. And it’s not cheap. It’s not expensive, but it’s not artificially cheap–it’s fair priced. Just because people are poor, it doesn’t mean they’re not willing to pay for good food.
Wait, so you own a boat with the guys from Roberta’s?
Well, Brandon, Chris and Gabe from Roberta’s were at this art opening that me and Brent and Ben were also at, a friend’s opening on the Lower East Side. We were wasted, drinking warm sake out of this huge bottle of sake out on the street. And they were talking about their boat. And then they said, ” You guys should fucking buy into the boat!” And we were like, “Yeah!” We never actually got to the part where we gave them the money though, so we’re theoretical part-owners of the boat. Theoretically, we own one-third of one-fifth of the boat.
For my bachelor party, we played paintball on Staten Island, and ate at this tiki bar, and when went over the bridge to South Brooklyn, where our boat is moored. We took it out, and swam with luminescent jellyfish in the middle of the night.
What’s the hardest animal to break down?
Beef, because it’s so big. It’s very physical, and inasmuch as a carcass of an animal is dangerous, it’s dangerous. It’s heavy enough that when you lift it, you can pull a muscle or pop a disk. When you split it down the middle, you get these feather bones sticking out, they’re like steak knives made of bone, you can cut yourself very easily, and the cuts don’t heal very well. It’s like being stabbed by blade from Mordor. It defies treatment.
What drinks would you pair with strongly flavored offal?
At an event where we partnered with Bombay Sapphire the other day, we had a chicken liver mousse and paired it with gin. Juniper is one of those magical spices that brings together the flavor of liver–although not beef liver, because it’s so incredibly strong. Juniper goes in your country pates and different terrines. It goes with a lot of duck dishes, because duck is kind of gamey. Those resinous spices in gin work well with liver. I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods by the French. Wine isn’t the answer to everything.
Do you live in Brooklyn?
I live in what we like to call Bed-Stuy-Wicks-Burg.
What are your favorite places to eat in Brooklyn that no one talks about?
Well, I mean obviously Roberta’s. I don’t think they get as much press as they should. It’s not just a restaurant; it’s an insane community center-slash-venue for weirdness. They’re down for whatever. You can go there and get a $12 pizza or a $50 steak.
But the most interesting restaurant that no one ever talks about is the Roebling Tea Room. I go there a lot, it’s kind of like our clubhouse. Dennis Spina, the chef, he makes this cockle pie–it’s like a focaccia-brioche dough, and he puts a bunch of raw cockles, butter and herbs on top, and bakes it. The cockles open up and their salty juices run out into the butter. He’s such an interesting, underrated chef. He does his own wine list, and writes all the menus, which are spare but manage to be hilarious at the same time. You know, a lot of places have retardedly elaborate names for everything.
What’s an underrated cut or organ?
The heart, by far. When people hear “organ meat,” they think of liver and kidneys, which have that metallic–especially if overcooked–that horrible, metallic, gassy flavor. Hearts are the opposite. They have that profoundness, but instead of being profoundly metallic, or profoundly bloody, they have an intensely meaty flavor, like eating a really amazing steak, but beyond steak. Duck heart is like the best duck breast you can imagine.
What music do you listen to while you’re working?
It depends on the mood and whose turn it is to put on a song. So on a typical Friday night, when we want to go out later but we have a lot of work to do, we’ll put on Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Cactus–mid-’70s sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll cocaine rock.
And Ben really likes Kelly Clarkson.
Totally true. And I have a soft spot for Evanescence. I like to say I have the worst taste in music of anyone I know. I like Danzig. Black Moth Super Rainbow–that’s definitely one of our favorites.
What’s the last book you read?
Embarrassingly, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [by Stieg Larsson].
Why is that embarrassing?
I don’t know, it’s so Scandinavian. It’s got a stupid title. I feel like I’m reading The Kite Runner. It’s actually a fun, trashy book, but because it has that stupid name I feel like I’m reading The Kite Runner.
Now I’m reading the next one, The Girl Who Played With Fire.
What’s the last movie you saw?
Actually, Point Break, but I’ve been going through a Michael Mann phase. I watched Miami Vice and Heat recently. I don’t know what it is about them, but I love the shit out of his movies. They’re not funny. They’re somehow athletic, the characters are hyper-real–like the guy in Miami Vice [Colin Farrell], his mustache isn’t even cut evenly, his clothes are trashy, like he’s wearing some Guy Fieri get-up with the worst hair cut in the world. But if you watch Cocaine Cowboys, that’s what those guys look like. They deal in millions of dollars of coke, but they’ve got dumb haircuts and $40 clothes.
The only thing that really stuck with me from Miami Vice is a kind-of-amazing speedboat scene.
Yeah, I should shitcan this whole sailboat thing and get a cigarette boat.
And a mustache.
I would but my facial hair is blond, so when I grow a mustache I look like that guy from Reno 911.
What’s in your home refrigerator?
A pot of braised beans, a lot of unfiltered sake–I’m insane for unfiltered sake. And there are lots and lots of jars of preserves that my mom and my wife’s mom have made for us. We’re so busy that we never eat breakfast, so they keep piling up–strawberry and apricot and raspberry. We have like 12 jars, but what are you going to do? I’m not going to throw out my mom’s jam. I don’t even own a toaster. It’s been so long since I’ve had anything but a cup of coffee for breakfast.
What do you eat when you’re alone?
I’m a slave to bulletproof Chinese food. I usually get egg rolls and hot and sour soup. I always order off the appetizer menu: dumplings, hot and sour soup, egg rolls, and they usually all end up in the soup.
Is there a celebrity chef you’re just completely sick of hearing about?
You know, not really. I went through this period when I was like: Emeril, fuck him. Fucking kill Guy Fieri, with his frosted tips, his dumb car, his flame shirts. But then I was hungover one day, and there was a Guy Fieri marathon on, and I Stockholm syndromed out. I identified with my captors: Oh yeah, Guy Fieri, you’re cool. I mean, I have friends who have been line cooks for Bobby Flay. And he’s one of those guys, you look at him and think he’s just a stone dick.
But I can’t hate celebrity chefs anymore. For one thing, it’s just too easy: Oh, you’re making fun of a celebrity chef, wow, you’re doing the impossible there, buddy. I spent an inordinate amount of time being negative about shit, and then I said: You know what? Fuck it. Everyone’s doing their thing. Whatever makes them happy.
Now I worry about celebrity chefs. I was watching the Rachael Ray show the other day, and she’s going around eating at Chez Panisse-esque restaurants in the South, and she looked and sounded terrible. She needs to take better care of herself, Oh man, I’m worried about her. I feel like her handlers are pushing her too hard. She has a talk show now? It doesn’t seem tenable. When do you sleep? And Mario Batali! He’s all red! Fuck dude! Just take a year off and travel the world. Take care of your ticker, you look like you’re going to have a heart attack.