I’m back with your companion to Episode 2 of Volume 6 of Chef’s Table, the trailblazing Netflix show. Today’s episode features Dario Cecchini. If you missed my companion to Volume 6 Episode 1, check it out here.

As I was saying, Episode 2 follows Dario Cecchini, an enterprising butcher who also cooks — and who dreamed of becoming a veterinarian during his childhood. In fact, after leaving his home village of Panzano, he attended veterinary school in Pisa for one year before receiving the news of his father’s death.

In the episode, Dario Cecchini relates how he grew up around food, friends, and family. His father was a butcher in a long line of butchers, and Dario was expected to take over the family trade. He never fully came to terms with the idea until he understood that, with both of his parents gone, he was responsible not only for his father’s butcher shop, but also for his family.

In the beginning, however, Dario struggled. He had no formal training as a butcher, and found it difficult to cut animals he loved to pieces. His outlook changed after his father’s meat selector Orlando explained to him that the role of a butcher is not only to butcher meat, but also to respect “il dono dell’animale” — the gift of the animal — and to teach people how to utilize all parts of an animal in their cooking.

But although Dario tried to convince his customers to buy cuts other than steaks and fillets, they weren’t so enthusiastic — at first. His desire to spread the word about responsible meat consumption led to the opening of his first restaurant, Solociccia (“Only Meat”), where he served up the less noble cuts, the ones his grandmother had used to feed his family during his childhood. Today, he maintains his butcher shop and runs three restaurants and works to instill a love of meat and a love of animals in the minds of his guests who, gathering around a single table, are like an extended family to him and his restaurant staff.

And although his simplistic style of cooking has become renowned — people flock to the tiny village of Panzano just to experience his iconic restaurant — Dario considers himself a butcher first, and a cook second. In fact, he readily admits that he’s not a cook — he’s a butcher who cooks, and his first job is to make sure that animals receive the respect they deserve, in death as well as in life.

I, personally, love animals, and I also love eating meat. Some people, over the years, have attempted to point out this seeming contradiction. But I don’t think it has to be a contradiction. Dario loves animals, but he brings himself to the slaughterhouse anyway, to stand witness over their deaths and to preside over their afterlife, in which the donation of their lives stands center stage. Some might ask whether a cow would choose to donate its life to meat-eaters. But we all might do well to remember that cows as we know them would not exist had they not been domesticated to be eaten.

This episode of Chef’s Table also provides a touch-point to discuss the trade of butchers. It’s a wonderful thing that Dario Cecchini brought the world of butchery back to the fore in Italy. It’s also a shame that where I live, in the United States, butchery is all but dead. I know of only one local butcher shop — but, as a result of watching this episode, I may well pay it a visit.

Learn more about Dario and his restaurants on his website.

Continue reading my guide to Chef’s Table. The next episode follows enterprising chef Asma Khan on her journey from Calcutta to London.

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