“An artisan butcher with 45 years of experience in Los Angeles? That doesn’t exist!” exclaims Jean-Claude Setin in his lovely Niçois accent. It was that assessment that inspired this 60-year-old butcher to launch Le French Butcher, an artisanal French butcher shop in Los Angeles.
Last year, a little hipster butcher shop called Lindy and Grundy closed, much to the consternation of local foodies. Where would they get their high-quality meats now? There have been a couple of attempts to fill the hole like Bel Campo, located in Downtown L.A., but for Setin there are very few young American butchers who truly have the skills necessary to do it right.
“Having a couple of tattoos and knowing the right way to hold a knife doesn’t make you a butcher,” he says bluntly, “you have to know how to maintain your meat locker and identify different parts of the animal by feel. All of that comes with years of experience.”
Setin’s passion for butchery began in his hometown of Nice where his family has lived for four generations. “I had a friend who delivered meat for a butcher and he offered to take me on as his commis,” explains Setin, “I started my formal training when I was 13 years old.”
He went on to manage several stores for another butcher and was so successful that he decided to launch his own venture within the Buffa shopping center in Nice, before opening his own independent shop. “That’s how I met Susan,” he says, referring to his American wife and business partner.
“It was closing time and but I was still in the store reconciling the drawer and even though the gate was half-closed she insisted on coming in because she was in desperate need of some cheese for a dinner,” he says before adding with a smile, “she was still a vegetarian then.”
He had some high-profile clients in Nice, including Pierre Cardin, Elton John and even Bradley Cooper. But the French recession convinced Setin to retire and move to Los Angeles with his wife where he began working at Lindy and Grundy.
“As soon as I walked into that shop just the smell of it stopped me in the doorway,” he remembers, “I knew it was a real butcher shop! I want my customers to have that same experience when they walk into Le French Butcher.”
Getting great animals to butcher hasn’t been a problem for Setin. “In California I find exceptional meat by going to meet ranchers in the L.A. region who are raising animals entirely fed on grass,” he says, who feels that that is less and less the case in his native France.
But for Setin, the benefits of shopping at a French butcher go beyond getting grass-fed and antibiotic-free meat. “I want to be there for my customers,” he says, “In Nice, on some days I’d be someone’s confidant and on other days someone’s nutritionist!”
An American visitor to Le French Butcher might also be surprised by the variety of cuts available. “The system of butchery in France is more refined and uses 95 per cent of the animal compared with only 65 per cent used by American butchers,” explains Setin, “Some cuts are completely unknown here, like the jarret de boeuf which makes an excellent Burgundy fondue.”
Stein also plans to sell roast chickens (yes, the kind that have you drooling as you stroll past real French butcher shops even if you’ve just eaten!), French wine from small vineyards and traditional prepared specialties like daube, cassoulet, and pot roast.
You’ll be able to purchase from Setin’s website as soon as Saturday, and Le French Butcher is planning to open three brick-and-mortar establishments in Los Angeles over the next two years.
The meat will be prepared at L.A. Prep, a collective work place for innovative, food-centric startups. Stein has also formed a partnership with the local Catholic charity St Vincent Meals on Wheels that serves some 4000 organic meals to the needy every day in Los Angeles.
But of all his projects, the one that’s likely to be most exciting to Los Angeles meat-lovers is his plan to share his experience with prospective butchers in the L.A. area. “There’s a real renaissance in butchery in the United States but the training has to go further,” he explains, “Here you can call yourself a butcher after three months of training. In France it takes three years.”