Paul Wetzel, visionary charcutier of Gramercy Tavern — Danny Meyer’s pioneering, Michelin-starred seasonal restaurant in Manhattan — is like a troubadour of cured meat, traveling from town to town to share the ancient art, listening and learning as he goes.
“I’ve gotten to the point at Gramercy that I have a strong team that supports me – so when I take time off, I plan trips to go to Italy to see salumi being made, or I visit butcher shops and processing plants… I grew up on a farm in North Ohio, and that was the foundation for what I’m doing now… it’s great not to just come from just the chef aspect, — a lot of chefs don’t understand what its like to be on the farm 365 days a year, getting up at 5 am, everyday, what it takes to raise an animal… , you can’t just say, Oh I want the fat this way, when you don’t really see how it happens.”
There is a charcuterie renaissance happening in America, and Paul is at its very foundation. Like his mentor, Swiss-born charcutier Francois Vecchio, Paul takes a “holistic approach” to his art — his respect for the animal goes back to the farm. “In just the past 6 or 7 years there’s been a shift in whole-animal butchers shops and artisanal charcuterie. There are more small producers doing fine product and it puts pressure on big scale producers who are basically cut off from the earth. This is where a lot of our problems have come from. They don’t understand that animals need to be grazing and healthy.
“And we try to buy nose to tail for a lot of reasons —we try to use as much of the animal as possible , from confit to sausages to curing meats, maximizing utilization. It’s less money than buying parts, of course, and it drives menu development — If you are just buying bellies and chops, you’re more likely to stay in a rut.”