Belmont Butchery in RVA

Tickle the Tastebuds - Cuisine & Restaurants

Ask Tanya Cauthen, Local Butcher in Richmond, Virginia

by Leah Small

Belmont Butchery's Tanya CauthenTanya Cauthen is an aerospace engineering student turned chef then butcher. In 2006 she opened the Belmont Butchery, which harkens back to older European style butcheries. The establishment is characterized by rustic charm. It smells like your grandmother’s kitchen, and you always have to talk to someone to cut what you need. “People are craving interactions with experts,” Tanya says about the shop’s traditional service in a world of pre-packaged anonymity. The butchers grind their own sausage, cut their own meats, and select many of the carcasses from local farmers. They are ready with recommendations, because chances are they have had what you’re seeking for lunch. They purvey everything for every palate, from traditional bangers to turkey with curry and coconut.

Before she was a butcher or even a chef, Tanya was a University of Virginia student whose major didn’t fit and like many young people, she did not want to move back home. While taking a hiatus from the college life, Tanya got her first start in cooking at the Garrett in Charlottesville. Tanya says her inability to “smile on command” put her in the kitchen working mostly as a prep cook instead of waitressing. Luckily, the head chef recognized her potential, calling her one of the most naturally gifted cooks he had ever seen. He happened to be the executive chef at UVA and ran the college’s apprenticeship program. Even though cooking was not a “life plan,” she ended up not going back for engineering that fall but instead enrolled in the apprenticeship program.

After passing her apprentice exam, she was sponsored by Chef Fred Geisler of the Schnitzel House in Charlottesville to cook in Switzerland. This was where she had her first opportunity to see the full break down of a carcass. She was fascinated by watching what she humorously calls “old knarled German dudes” butchering artfully. She was not as deft when allowed her first try, which was hampered by inexperience and a language barrier. “I’m sure I did it horribly, but I didn’t care,” she says about the experience, “they let me do it and that’s all that matters.”

During her first try at butchery Tanya was able to see the role of the middleman between pasture and kitchen she would one day become. The chef’s fascination with butchery is partly due to her cuisine, which she describes as “very meat driven.” She laughingly says of her palette: “Give me more, the rarer the better!”

After a year in Switzerland, Tanya spent six months backpacking through Europe, tasting and cooking along the way. She experienced local cuisines and further cultivated her belief in consuming what’s provincial and in season long before Omnivore’s Dilemma. Tanya says that the experience broadened her palette and improved her ability to identify flavors. “I was doing farm-to-table way before Americans got the trend,” she says about her practice of roving European farmers markets for fresh ingredients. This would always influence her cooking and later her practice of providing local meats at Belmont Butchery.

In 1993 Tanya brought her newly expanded palette to Richmond. On the advice of Anne Willan, founder of the LaVarrene cooking school, she took a job at the newly opened The Frog and the Redneck. However, Tanya is a self-described “restless soul” and found that the experience began to become to stifling. “What he promised me was not what I was doing,” she says.

It is this zeal for change that has fueled the multiple turns her career has taken before Belmont Butchery was even a seed of a thought.

At the age of 24 Tanya started Capers Catering as co-chef, opened the Red Oake Café as executive chef, and has had many culinary stints throughout the years. When not owning her own place, she has always gravitated toward “small and funky upstarts” and has helped many small businesses onto their feet. One of these was the Richmond favorite, Three Monkeys. “He needed someone to make it happen then want to walk away,” she says about her role of cracking the whip to translate Johnny Giavos’s vision to consistent quality from the kitchen. “I would go into a job, put in my heart and soul and build it to what I consider to be an A-list place,” she says about her need for change, “but once I got it there, then what was the challenge that was left?”

 

belmontbutchery2She was immersed in what she calls a “hodgepodge of projects,” which included writing about food for Richmond Magazine and working as opening chef at Edible Garden, when she had the epiphany to start a butchery. She was upset by the fact Richmond did not have this resource after hearing TV chef Alton Brown say, “Ask your local butcher” on the Food Network. Tanya’s next project was to fix this problem, of course. At first the task was daunting. “The hardest thing was when I actually got the financing,” she reflects, “I sat in my car and cried.” These were not tears of joy but of fear. “The whole idea that I was putting my future on the line for this crazy idea that everyone told me I was going to fail miserably [in scared me].”

Before starting the task of turning an empty shell into a thriving business, she found courage in fellow chef Julia Childs. She settled down on the beach with Julia’s biography, My Life in France, for a much-needed vacation before the mayhem. “If Julia can learn to cook at 37 and become a culinary icon, I can open a butcher shop,” she said. Tanya had just had her 37th birthday.

After the three-day vacation from worrying about the business plan, she returned to the task at hand and became, as she says, “her own general contractor.” Tanya was in the trenches, pulling half of the space’s wires with an electrician, pulling her own permits, and building the register station. She invested herself in the traditional way with “sweat and some blood,” she says.

Tanya was armed with zeal and interest but did not qualify as a butcher yet. She and newly hired chef Chris Mattera set out on a quest of reading, research and trial and error. She was always good at the preparation of meat that chefs did and admitted that her greatest strength was modesty. “I know that I don’t know what I am doing,” she says of her inexperience. “I know a lot [and] I can learn.” After the first year and a half, Tanya says, “We could hold our heads up and say that we were butchers instead of saying that we were meat cutters.” They were instilled with confidence when Chris took a six-week trip to Italy to work in a fourth-generation butcher shop where he was able to hold his own. However, Tanya still calls any publication’s reference to her as a “master butcher” “bull.”

Whether or not another project is on her horizon is hard to tell. Tanya does laughingly admit that she is proud of the fact she has maintained the same job for this long. The small gem hidden away on Belmont continues to be a haven for the gourmet and artisanal. It is still the place to go if seeking quality meats, recipe advice, or just old-fashioned interaction. It represents a steadfast commitment to local goods. Above all, Belmont Butchery is Richmond’s answer to Alton Brown’s command, “Ask your local butcher.”

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Writer Leah Small tried Belmont Butchery's chorizo sausage and and thinks it is  the epitome of spicy deliciousness!

Visit the Belmont Butchery online for location and for product information, including a wide selection of “Charcuterie” (handcrafted cured meats) and sausage. (Check with the butchery for current availability.)

Belmont Butchery Charcuterie includes the BB bacon (“slow smoked over hickory & cherry and cured using simple, classic ingredients – kosher salt, brown sugar, maple syrup and whole black peppercorns”—amazing!), duck confit, pate maison, prosciutto, three types of salame, and Twenty Mile Rabbit Terrine (a terrine en gelee made with ingredients sourced from within a 20-mile radius, “local, sustainable and delicious,” including rabbits, organic carrots and leeks).

Belmont Butchery sausage includes Thuringer bratwurst, Cajun boudin, Della Nonna, duck with Grand Marnier, jalapeno and cheddar, lamb with rosemary, and Portuguese chorizo. 

The store is located one block off Cary Street Road, at 15 N. Belmont Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Open from Monday through Friday 9:30am to 7:00pm and Saturday 9:30am to 6:00pm, Belmont Butchery can be reached at (804) 422-8519.

 
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