Tonight's dinner service will be a busy one for Peter Botcher and his staff, one of many to come for this new executive chef. Now that opening chef and part-owner Jack Riebel has sold his stake and left the business, Botcher has taken over this fan-favorite known for rustic takes on regional American fare with a heavy focus on charcuterie and sausages.
He's hardly new to the restaurant. We met Botcher when he and Riebel first began to share plans for this new restaurant idea they were working on. Botcher came up in the local restaurant scene, working closely with Steven Brown and Vincent Francoual, but he also studied the meat arts at the famed Fatted Calf in Napa Valley. Now, as he gears up for the next chapter in the saga of the restaurant, Botcher is ready to run the line. While some chefs would be sweating over the transition, Botcher is quick with a laugh, and just as quick to share credit with his staff, obviously confident about the road ahead.
We sat down with the chef to discuss his career and the future of the restaurant, as well as their current plans for total world domination.
Peter Botcher: Outside of Winona, along the Mississippi River.
HD: Did you come from a culinary family?
PB: Yes, my mom had her first restaurant at 19. She wasn't running a restaurant when I was a kid, but it was always a part of the family. So, yes, a very long culinary history in my family.
HD: What was the first dish you ever made?
PB: The first dish I ever cooked ever? As a kid? Bagel pizza. You know, pizza sauce, on a bagel, with cheese... not very exciting.
HD: But it at least had to have pepperoni on it, right? Was that the beginning of your love of charcuterie?
PB: Right, there was definitely pepperoni on it. For sure.
HD: What was your first job in the industry?
PB: I was a busboy at Brit's Pub.
HD: What first appealed to you about the industry?
PB: The free-spirited energy and craziness. That I could partake in all of that was beyond cool. I was 20.
HD: How did you make the transition from busboy to the kitchen?
PB: I was working at a cafe that a friend of mine owned, and he hired me as a waiter. I worked there for about two weeks and I was so bad. I sucked so much that they very gracefully asked if I would like to transition into the kitchen. I just loved it -- and I love food. I worked with a guy there named Darryl. He was a cook there and a bouncer at, you know that bar on Lake Street, Champions? Yeah, he was a bouncer there and a cook. He was my first mentor.
HD: Both David Dahmes of Tilia and Tyler Shipton of Borough list working for you in their bios, which got us thinking about mentors.
PB: They did? That's cool.
HD: Who would you say were your biggest mentors?
PB: For flavor, Steven Brown. I worked with him at Levain -- that must have been over 10 years ago now -- and again at Tilia before I came to open this place up. For technique, definitely Vincent Francoual. Those are my two biggest mentors.
HD: Aside from your pepperoni bagel pizza days, where did you discover your love of charcuterie?
PB: When I was working at Vincent's we did a lot of terrines and pates and things. I discovered I love butchery and love charcuterie. From Vincent I went to Levain with Steven Brown as his chef de cuisine. Working with him was very intense. Steven has a very open mind and it really helped me see new things. From there I went to Napa Valley for a couple of years. I was working at Ubuntu, a vegetarian Michelin-starred restaurant at night. In the morning I was working at the Fatty Calf doing charcuterie and butchering. I think the vegetarian guys thought I was this beastly brute. In the morning I'd work with meat and at night I'm plating shit with tweezers.
HD: How did you end up back in Minnesota?
PB: My wife and I were driving to Paris and the car broke down. We never got there.
PB: At Vincent's. I was a complete scumbag back then. Holes in my jacket, cigarettes, the whole thing. I don't know what she was thinking.
HD: What have been the biggest changes at Butcher & the Boar since you guys opened?
PB: A lot of the menu is the same. Actually, people are eating more meat. When we first opened people complained that it was all meat and now that's all they want to order. We're always working on better products, building our brand, getting better -- in order to achieve total world domination! We want our sausages on every table, our charcuterie in every restaurant.
HD: Are you working on new products for the Butcher & the Boar sausage line at the grocery store? Because, we must admit a pretty serious addiction to that turkey braunschweiger and we would really like to be able to get that fix.
PB: We're working on it! We'll see. We do have another product that we'll be ready to announce soon. You could make it, too. You just need a smoker and a blender. I developed a lot of this stuff in my kitchen at home, so we don't make a lot of our products in the industrial way that a lot of other companies do.
HD: We'll leave that to you. Now that you're at the kitchen helm, will someone else be taking over the leadership on the commercial sausage production side of the company?
PB: For now, it will still be me, through the winter. Eventually, we'll bring someone else in.
HD: How does it feel to be going forward with Butcher and the Boar without Jack?
PB: Well, I don't know. I mean, it's.... right now? We have a great team here.
HD: Has the face of the kitchen staff changed much since the news got out?
No. It's the same crew making the food: Brendan "Junior" McDonald, Jeff Kitt (he's a key player; he's worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller), Colin Stumbras (he's been here since before we opened and works on all the charcuterie and sausage, and handles the recipes). Plus, we have Rachel Slivicki
, our pastry chef who came from Chicago and our chef of the beer garden, John Perkins (he and Rachel are both from Hot Chocolate in Chicago). Not to be forgotten, our main meat man, Colton Winchester.
We're all feeling very optimistic about the future and what we're working on. We have a few projects that we can't mention yet, but there's a lot to be excited for.