MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 2 minutes 12 September 2023

Kelly Kawachi of Blackbelly Market is the MICHELIN Guide Colorado 2023 Culinary Professional Award Winner

The Hawaiian native receives this year's Colorado Culinary Professional Award Winner presented by Rémy Martin.

Congratulations to Kelly Kawachi, butcher at Blackbelly Market and the 2023 MICHELIN Guide Colorado Culinary Professional Award Winner presented by Rémy Martin! Below, we chat with Kawachi about her journey as a butcher, what drives her, and what's next. Cheers!

What inspired you to become a butcher?

When I worked in Hawaii, we cut down whole fishopakapaka, onaga. When we worked with a local rancher, he gave us a lamb rib section, and we got to do the whole saw down, and that was pretty fun. At the same time, one of the lead cooks was doing a homemade coppa, and I loved salumi.

When I started looking, the time frame aligned up with Blackbelly. I took a chance from jumping from sous chef to apprentice butcher. It was a little risky, but I think more tools in your belt is better than one thing. The expansion of Blackbelly really helped me want to stay on board too. It’s been awesome.

What is your favorite cut of meat?

Tri-tips right now. It changes, I rotate depending on what mood I’m in or how fast I want to cook.

How do you focus on sustainability through your work?

We only work with local farmers and ranchers. Our lamb, we get them from 25 minutes away. We bring in a whole lamb, whole pig split in half, and cow that’s split in eighths, and we utilize everything. We make broths. With the trim, we make sausages and grinds. We make jerky. Not throwing away anything and utilizing the whole animal. We’re trying to get the word out there with trying to sell all of the [animal] instead of it going to grind.

How do you incorporate seasonality?

We do that when we're making sausages. Right now, we have a peach chili sausage. In terms of the animal, it's more of the cut. If we have beef shanks in the summer, we'll smoke them. In the winter, we’ll cube them up or you can grind them for hot dogs. Kebabs in the summer are always a big hit. We'll put out a bunch of chuck roast in the winter. And then for the summer, we'll probably just smoke that and maybe shred it for any kind of tacos or sandwich meats that you want.

Lauren Rosenberg/Santo
Lauren Rosenberg/Santo

What motivates you in the kitchen?

Honestly, the work itself. Since becoming Head Butcher, I've gotten the joy of having my employees happy and satisfied too. It’s great when I look up, and they're totally cutting and smiling, being in a cheery mood and just stoked about every project that I give them.

When a customer comes back and shows me on their phone like, “Oh, I bought a chuck eye from you. Check out my roast, it came out perfect.” You could be having a bad day and then you hear just one person compliment their meal that they got from you, and it just feels great. It keeps you wanting to do this, it solidifies the purpose of your work. In a way, you’re doing something right.

What do you eat for breakfast?

Overnight oats because I don't have time to cook breakfast. I'm here at 5:30 a.m. On my weekend, I just make my breakfast for all five days and then scarf it down and get to work. I try to have a nice filling breakfast, so I don't get hungry.

How do you wind down at the end of the day?

I like to get a good run, a jog in, to further wind me down. And then have a good dinner and maybe a glass of wine or beer. And just hanging out at home with my fiancé.

What has been your experience as a female in the industry?

Personally, it's been really good. I don't know if it's because of my personality. I’m tough. I think females can get what they want in business, and really, it's not men that's stopping us. It's just our own mentality. I've gone out with that attitude, and I've been treated the same. If I work in a kitchen full of men, I just match them. It's just the energy I have. Honestly, I've never worked with a guy where there's that discrepancy. It's more that they're just excited to have a person, male or female, that they can count on, so I've never hit a roadblock with that.

I'm sure there are women out there that have hit roadblocks. But for my personal self, I haven't experienced that. I don't feel like there's any gender thing. 

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to work in the industry?

In the restaurant, just stage; work at the restaurant for at least two years, unless it's a really bad environment. Two years is a good amount of time to learn the good and bad about that particular restaurant, and then that'll help you at the next part in life. As far as butchery, I didn't take this route, but working in a grocery store meat department is a good start, or a processing facility.

Photo: Joni Schrantz
Photo: Joni Schrantz

Hero image: Joni Schrantz

MICHELIN Guide Ceremony

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