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An Epicurean Inquisition with Pat LaFrieda

A thick burger, fresh off the grill, seared rare. It’s all I can think about as Pat LaFrieda talked to me about meat last Monday afternoon.

For a man who’s one of the most sought-after butchers in New York City with over 500 restaurant accounts, Pat LaFrieda is impressively calm. Described as “the hardest-working man in meat,” LaFrieda and cousin Mark Pastore took over the family meat business from Pat’s father, Pat Sr., who inherited the work from his father, the founder of LaFrieda Meats back in the early 1900s. Can you imagine their family dinners?

LaFrieda’s passion for beef shows in every menu he touches. He invented the blend for Michelin-starred Minetta Tavern’s “Black Label” burger. He sells to the Spotted Pig and the Little Owl, not to mention Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. LaFrieda is the meat man about town, and even the Food Network has recently taken note.

And the chance to chat with Pat and hear about life in the butcher case, working 3:30 pm until 6 am each day, and cutting for 12 of those hours in 36 degrees F temperatures, was awesome.

1.     What’s your favorite meal to prepare at home?

My favorite type of meat to eat is lamb — I love to prepare different cuts of lamb. If we’re talking about beef, skirt steak is my favorite cut. When it comes to wines, it’s whatever else everyone is drinking. And I love artisan beers like Dogfish Head and Six Point.

2.     What’s the food you would never consume again, and why?

Nothing! I’ve eaten everything.

3.     What’s the kitchen appliance/gadget you can’t live without?

My grill. I grill everything. I don’t care if it’s the middle of winter, before I do anything, I put on my grill. I’ll climb over the snow if I have to! Once I get that gas going so it starts to heat up, I can prep my meat.

4.     What was your most unforgettable meal?

That’s a tough one. The lamb’s tongue at Babbo is my favorite appetizer of all time. Michael White’s pasta at Marea is just unbelievable. And the pasta tasting course was the most memorable pasta meal I’ve ever had. The best steak I’ve ever eaten was the rib steak at Perla – Mike Toscano is a great chef. It’s funny because someone else ordered a lamb head that night, which was also outstanding. We’d cut the back of so it could stand up and you could pick out the cheek and the tongue. And it’s funny too because the first restaurant he [Toscano] worked in was Babbo.

5.     What would be the biggest surprise we’d find in your butcher case?

Quail eggs.

6.     What’s the most unusual cut of meat you’ve had to deliver?

Well, I’d have to say veal fryers, which are calf testicles. Chef Cesare Casella orders them for his restaurant, Salumeria Rosi.

7.     What’s your most important tool of the trade?

My scimitar knife.

8.     What’s the craziest order you’ve ever had?

Well, last Thursday night, it was 11 pm and Franklin Becker from Abe & Arthur’s called me and said the entire Giants football team just came in for dinner. “Pat, you don’t understand, I need 40 porterhouse steaks, you gotta bring them now.” And I asked, “Have they ordered yet?” Franklin, “They’ve already ordered!” And I said to Franklin, the meat’s in another state! So I drove back [to the meat refrigerator in New Jersey], portioned the porterhouses, and drove them into the city in my car. There were about 100 people deep as I tried to get into the restaurant. And the chefs were there, waiting.

Follow my epicurean adventures on Twitter @KathrynAndersen, and be sure to tweet @PatLaFrieda