'Less meat, but good meat': How a childhood in London informs this Ballard butcher's philosophy
Beast & Cleaver has only been open in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood for about two years, but it's already developed a loyal following.
It’s a Monday when we visit Beast & Cleaver, the whole-animal butchery shop located in the northern part of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
The store is closed today, but owner Kevin Smith lets us in, and it’s quickly apparent that there’s plenty of work to do.
A truck has just arrived in the alley, from the Preservation Meat Collective in Seattle, one of the many local farms and purveyors that supply this two-year-old store. It speaks to Smith's philosophy that our meat eating should be about quality, not quantity.
“We should eat less meat, but eat good meat,” Smith said. “We don’t sell anything that is in the realm of commodity. It’s all coming from small local farms.”
Beef and pork from Ephrata. Lamb from Snoqualmie. Ducks from Elma. Rabbits from Acme.
Smith and his staff break down the animals right there in the store. The store sells the standard cuts any butcher would, but also uses other animal parts to make stock, pates, terrines and additional specialty items. And on weekends, the butcher shop converts to a restaurant, called The Peasant, where tables are booked weeks in advance.
“If you have the ability to know how to use the cheaper cuts and turn those cuts into amazing charcuterie, that’s where you make money, which is massively important. It shows you’re skillful, and the stuff is delicious,” he said. “All of the stuff you can’t cook, you can turn into amazing stuff, if you know how to do it. Lots of butchers are butchers. Lots of cooks are cooks. To me there’s no difference.”
“Lots of butchers are butchers. Lots of cooks are cooks. To me there’s no difference.”
His belief in using the whole animal dates back to his childhood in London, the youngest of three kids in a family that didn’t have a lot of money. They lived in a council estate housing (“You might classify it as a ‘project’ here,” he says), and his mother worked as a cleaner and a cook, making spectacular meals for the family from very simple ingredients.
“We’d get the train on her off days, and we’d go and pick cockles and mussels off the seashore,” Smith said. “We’d … bring them home on the train, and she’d boil them in milk, with onions and clove. They’d cook for hours and be really tender. That milk would go into mash and butter. … That is like peasant food as I know it.”
He describes learning to cook from his mother and helping her in the kitchen and learning to prepare meat at a very young age. Fond memories that make him a little emotional about a different time in his life.
“Because it’s gone,” he said. “It’s gone. I can still do it, and I still do it with my son. I take him out in the garden, and he can identify every single herb. That’s my way of trying to relive those moments, of letting him have that joy. When he’s older, he’ll remember that.”
Smith’s path to Ballard began when he met the woman who would become his wife, Polly, while in Spain. They hit it off, and he came to the U.S. for 90 days, the longest his visa would allow. To stay longer, he enrolled as a student in culinary school.
And on New Year’s Eve 2019, Kevin Smith opened Beast & Cleaver. He hopes the combination of butcher shop and restaurant sets his business apart. He’s not just selling meat. He’s making new things for people to enjoy.
“We’re playing jazz with it now,” he said. “We’re not copying, we’re creating stuff now. In my opinion, we’re operating at a really high level with charcuterie here, and it’s something we’re really proud of.”