Nose-to-tail? Zero waste? Dario Cecchini and his family have been doing that for generations

PLACE: Coral Tree Plaza, DTLA
TIME: Almost sunset, or since we are in Hollywood, that window of light known as ‘magic hour’.
EVENT: The Beast Feast, which combines the geniuses of prominent chefs from all over the world as they bring their favorite meat-centric dishes to the table. At a cost of $300 a pop.

Following one of the themes of the LA Food Bowl, I went to meet one of the dedicated, colorful, passionate chefs who are part of the anti-food-waste movement. No one in modern culinary history has popularized the use of the whole animal as much as British chef Fergus Henderson, who pioneered nose-to-tail movement. Although Henderson was also in attendance, I could not wait to meet another guest of honor, world-famous butcher DARIO CECCHINI aka the macellaio of the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, in Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany.


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As soon as you meet him (in a double breasted vest, sporting Italian colored buttons) one thing you cannot miss: the passion for his craft and old-world traditions. Dario Cecchini is, in a few words, the classic Italian: loud, funny, bright, jumping everywhere, from table to table while talking to guests and his wife Kim, aka The Grace Kelly of Panzano. She is putting the final touches on Dino’s dish for tonight’s event: ginocchio di manzo in insalata aka beef shin salad. Well, let’s dig in with some Q&A’s.

RELATED: How Massimo Bottura Is Fighting Food Waste – And How You Can Too

Dario Cecchini and his meal

Dario Cecchini pouring olio at LA Food Bowl’s Beast Feast (Photo: David G. Marks)

1) Dario, If you were to describe yourself, how would you go about it?

I love what I do. I am an artisan. For the last 40-50 years, I’ve been a butcher. In fact, for the entire lifespan of my whole family, about 250 years, we’ve been butchers. I am the last of eigth generations of Cecchinis, always seeking to better myself in my art, and to discover the best cutting and cooking methods for each piece of meat.


2) What do you care the most in what you do?

My goal is to respect the animal by using every part in the best way possible. I always say that it is up to us butchers to have responsibility. The butcher is the one in charge, picked by society, of killing the animal. And to kill is the most delicate “step” in the food chain as we know it. To be carnivores, and I am a carnivore, I stil eat some sort of meat three times a day. It means that it is my DUTY, my HONOR to essentially give animals a good life and more important a compassionate death, ultimately. It means to use the whole animal very well, and the end of the day, to thank him.

RELATED: Check Out Chi Spacca, An Italian-Inspired Steakhouse


3) What about the nose-to-tail movement?

Nose-to-tail cooking is in vogue today, but I have been practicing nose-to-tail butchery for the past forty years. Respecting the animal, its life, its death, and using everything to the very last tendon is what I have been doing every day for the past 40 years. I call for a sort of a Renaissance in meat, that only good meat comes from an animal that lived a full life. The animal must enjoy all of the good things in life.


4) Why did you choose to prepare beef shin?

Because not only it is good, but it speaks of tradition, centuries of cooking, of not wasting anything. I ate my first stake when I was 18 years old, and after that, I was in love with meat. At our butchery in Panzano, the best cuts of meats were reserved for rich customers. Mama & papa were working all day. My grandma cooked for me and my sister so many different kinds of meats… we ate terrific dishes like tripe, snout, legs, tail, skin, liver, or sanguinaccio [a sausage made with pig’s interiors and blood]… Whatever customers did not want, basically. What people today call NO WASTE was simply feeding my family. Not to waste food is normal to me and to people like us, when back then, we did not have that much to eat, we used everything.

Photo: David G. Marks

5) Best cut/part of meat?

Everybody assumes it is filetto and steak… They are considered as such only because they are the easiest cuts, that’s it. The best for me, and also to Pellegrino Artusi [the author of Italy’s first cookbook, La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene back in 1891, ndt] are bones and whatever is around them. My favorite #1 dish is brodo, made with bones, specifically knee bones.

Meet Dario Cecchini, Italy’s most famous butcher (Photo courtesy of Dario Cecchini)

6) Like the one you served up tonite?

Sì. It’s a traditional recipe. The knee is the most important element which sustains the whole cow. It’s made of bone cartilage, tendons, lean skin, and muscle fibers. You should cook it in a simple way: you boil the meat for a long time with carrots, celery, and onions; then, when the meat is ready, you serve it in a salad with the same, simple ingredients . Why? Because with that, rest assured you can taste the real flavor of the meat. What else.. only OLIVE oil for me. And a touch od SALT. Buon appetito!

Cover photo courtesy of Dario Cecchini. Other photos by David G. Marks for LA Food Bowl. All rights reserved. 


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