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Interview: Jonathan Beitler chats with us about the 2nd Annual Butcher’s Ball

The Butcher’s Ball is a meat lovers dream and back for its second year at Rockin’ Star Ranch located in Brenham, Texas! However, this is not only an event for foodies, but an event highlighting local ranchers that adhere to ethical and sustainable ranching practices while also raising money for two nonprofit beneficiaries, Urban Harvest and Foodways Texas.

In its inaugural year the ball showcased 13 Texas chefs competing for the Golden Cleaver award to a crowd of nearly 500.  This year, you’ll be able to see over 40 chefs compete for the Rockin’ Star Ranch’s Golden Cleaver Award, voted on by the public based on their favorite dish. The Austin chefs will include Ben Runkle from Salt & Time and Dawn Burrell from Uchiko. If meat is not your thing  there will be other activities including live music as Texas country legend Dale Watson and His Lone Stars will be headlining the outdoor stage, with support from White Ghost Shivers, Will Van Horn Trio and Vinyl Ranch.

We had the opportunity to learn more about the Butcher’s Ball from one of the coordinators of the ball, Jonathan Beitler. Jonathan talks about how the event got started and what to expect.

Can you tell us how the Butcher’s Ball started and what to expect this year.

My very good friend Elaine Dillard and her family own Rockin’ Star Ranch and my other friend Jason works in the food industry with Farm to Table which is liaison between farmers, ranchers and chefs. We were talking and realized that there are a lot of events that highlight the best BBQ pit master or the best food truck, but  thought it would be interesting to do an event that highlighted chefs and restaurants that were actively sourcing their products from local companies and engaging in sustainable farming and ranching practices. 

We had a great crowd last year and we kind of used it as a test year to see if people were interested in this type of event and clearly they were. We have made the lineup much bigger this year. Last year we had 13 chefs and this year we have over 40 different chefs and culinary leaders. The culinary leaders may not be cooking on site but they will doing things like butchery demonstrations and engaging in panel discussions. We are also using this event as a way to raise money for farms and ranches in South East Texas that were affected by Hurricane Harvey. That money will be distributed directly to those farms and ranchers who experienced loss. Some of our partners lost everything including one of our main partners, Felix Florez of Black Hill Ranch. He lost half of his herd of hogs due to drowning. Gundermann Acres based in Wharton, Texas lost all of their crops.

Willow Villarreal’s table | Photo by Emily Jaschke

What makes the Butcher’s Ball different than other food festivals?

There’s not a whole lot of educational components that go into food festivals. You can go to something like Austin Food and Wine festival and certainly attend a plethora of panel discussions but those ticket prices are so outrageous. We have two panel discussions that are going to focus on sustainability, ranching and farming. We have someone from Grit Grocery who has a food truck filled with products that are sourced from local companies. The second panel we will have is about the Houston hospitality community and how they made an impact during the hurricane efforts. At the same time we will be doing butchering demonstrations and  selling the meat that is being butchered from the demos and 100% will go to the foundation. We’re really showcasing all aspects of the food circle and using it as a platform to raise money for people that need it.

Our idea is to make cooking and make the process of buying food and supporting local food and knowing where your food comes from more accessible to the public. That’s what we really want to try and do. We’re encouraging people to come hang out and also buy from these local farms and local butchers.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about sustainability and obstacle on accessing information on where our food comes from?  

The word sustainable is a buzzy term. A lot of people get turned off by it if they find that it is too hot topic of a word and they might not care as much like the word organic for instance. It’s been thrown around so much that it doesn’t really have a meaning anymore. The idea that we want to do as far as highlighting sustainability is telling people what it really is by using the voices of farms and ranches who participate in it. People are able to taste an egg that comes from a farm and will realize how much better it tastes than the egg you might buy at your grocery store. That can be impactful and really tell people they should look at how they are purchasing their food and why it’s important knowing where your food comes from. This is something that is becoming a more important thing to consumers and this event is just a way to show the public that they need to know your farms and ranches and know the chefs who are utilizing them.

What would you say to those people who maybe can’t afford to buy the highest quality of products but still want to try to source better food?

Obviously not everyone has the means to afford the highest of the quality meat or the highest quality of eggs or things like that but I think there seems to be a shift in the industry for restaurants and for consumers to want to not engage in purchasing things that have been genetically modified or have been pumped full of hormones. At the lowest level, just supporting non-GMOs is important for the customer. This event highlights the sustainability of farmers and ranching that is more of a model for the future of food consumption. Relying on huge farms and ranches that are not ethically stable isn’t the right way to go. Every chef and restaurant  we’re working with all actively source from local producers and make it evident on their menus.

The Le Boucherie vs. La Matanza event is new add-on for this year’s event. Can you describe what to expect?

Felix Florez will be taking one of his large hogs and using it for this. A traditional Boucherie or Matanza is basically the entire practice from when you slaughter an animal to when it’s put on your table to eat. The history behind it is it would bring together a whole community. Felix has gotten together 12 chefs:  6 will be on the Boucherie Team (French Cajun style) and 6 on the Matanza Team (Spanish style) who will work together to create a menu that morning. If you buy an add-on for this event you will be able to get there early in the morning, witness the slaughter and get to live a day as a chef. The chefs will cook for the four hours or so and it will be a public taste test and one team will end up being the winner.

It’s a really neat event and we don’t know of anywhere else that’s doing this type of competition and we are super excited to see what the outcome is. I was at an event last night where a few of the participating chefs were attending and they were already talking smack to each other. We’re excited for the people who are doing this add-on to come and be a part of it and experience something that we think is pretty special. It’s not everyday you get to cook with 12 notable chefs.

What other events will be going on besides eating delicious food?

This is a family event and encourage people to bring their kids. There will be live-music throughout the day. Dale Watson who is a legendary Texas country rocker will be performing in the evening. We have something for everyone. Rockin’ Star Ranch is big and beautiful so the kids will have a great time playing around. Alba Huerta is one of the best bartenders in the world and will be serving some delicious cocktails. We have an amazing auction filled with art, vacation packages and of course meat to bid on. 100% of the proceeds will  go to the farms and ranches. We’re trying to raise as much money as we can and really create a fun time and atmosphere for people to come and celebrate their local producers.

What does the future hold for the Butcher’s Ball?

We have so many ideas but the fact is all the coordinators for this event are all volunteers. We coordinate this event on the side as a way to give back. It will definitely continue annually and if we’re able to fit in other events throughout the year to showcase our local producers we’ll try.

Tickets for the 2017 Butcher’s Ball are $100 for adults and $25 for children 12 and under. Reserved VIP tables for 10 are available for $1,500. For tickets and additional information visit www.butchersball.com.

If you’re attending the event let us know! Make sure to follow the Butcher’s Ball on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and stay tuned for all the yummy dishes we try once we’re out of the food coma. 

Expert TV binger and taco aficionado. Catherine runs this magazine with the help of sugar free Redbull and lots and lots of tacos.

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