As a third-generation butcher on both sides of her family, Kari Underly sees her profession not as a trade so much as a craft. When she met Megan O’Connor last year the two realized that the foodservice world was sorely lacking in a training program to close gaps left by the decline in apprenticeships.
At the time, O’Connor cohosted the radio program, “No Chefs Allowed,” which followed her and her sister’s forays into cooking. Drawing on their combined passion for food, Underly’s background in butchery, and O’Connor’s marketing background, the pair founded Muscolo Meat Academy late last year. Muscolo—which means muscle in Italian—is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to training and certifying its students. From cuts and knife skills to terminology and the economics of meat, the program is designed to prepare students for careers as butchers and other foodservice roles.
Underly says that Muscolo is on trend with emerging fast-casual concepts since many seek to educate their customers about their food: its flavor profile, origin, and story.
“It’s the story and selling the sizzle,” Underly says. Not only is there a need for specialized skills among employees, there is also a desire to elevate the profession of butcher. “They need the motivation and the recognition, and hopefully slightly higher pay,” she adds. The prospect of higher wages for certified butchers might alarm some operators, but O’Connor and Underly counter that in the increasingly craft-centric world of restaurants, emerging concepts would get more value out of their employees. A skilled butcher would not only impart a certain authenticity to a brand’s menu, he or she would also engage and educate consumers in a meaningful way.
Muscolo’s first cohort of 15 students will begin classes in September. Students may participate in a single, three-month trimester to earn or a certificate in a specific study, or they can complete all three semesters in nine months to earn the Muscolo Master Certification.
O’Connor says that she hopes to work with partners and sponsors in the future so that students would not have to foot the tuition themselves (each trimester is $9,000). It will take Muscolo two years in operation to become an accredited school at which point students would be eligible for scholarship money and GI bill support.
Despite these initial obstacles, O’Connor and Underly are confident that Muscolo will find its niche. At a time when craftsmanship has become such an integral part of the food industry, a butchery school and certification program could find its favor among consumers and restaurant operators.
By Nicole Duncan