It is not everyday that you come face to face with a raucous and colourful food personality, who gleefully blows a horn in the restaurant and quotes philosophical lines from Dante’s Divine Comedy and Shakespeare. Meet Dario Cecchini, the world-renowned master butcher from Panzano, Italy, who recently partnered luxury boutique hotel Mondrian Singapore Duxton to open steakhouse Bottega di Carna.
At a recent media preview, Cecchini ambled around the restaurant, blowing his signature horn in tow, sending jolts of surprise and waves of laughter across the room before bellowing one of his signature lines: “The question is to beef or not to beef!”.
At one point, he takes a passionate bite out of a hulking L’Etusco steak after making another meat-loving proclamation, much to the amusement and awe of diners.
Cecchini, who has been hailed by the New York Times as ‘the world’s greatest butcher’ and starred in Netflix’s Chef’s Table, runs the Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano — which has been in his family for eight generations — and three restaurants in Tuscany. Bottega di Carna is his second overseas venture after Carna by Dario Cecchini, which re-opens in September
The master butcher, who is known for advocating using every part of the animal, has worked with Bottega di Carna’s executive chef Alastair Clayton and chef de cuisine Kenny Huang to introduce unconventional beef cuts into the menu. These include knee caps, picanha (rump cap), and Etruscan (above the cow’s shoulder). While the beef is not from Cecchini’s butchery in Italy, most of it is sourced from Australia, Japan, and the United States.
Cecchini calmly chopped up part of a beef carcass into bloody hunks while explaining his philosophy on food in Italian, which was translated by his American wife, Kim. He mentioned his deep respect for animals — something that was instilled in him as a veterinary undergraduate before he abruptly gave up his studies to take over the family business when his father fell ill.
At Bottega di Carna, signature dishes from the wood-fired grill include the Bistecca ala Florentina (which uses an Australian dry-aged porterhouse) that erupts with unadulterated meaty flavours that are lifted by a sprinkling of Cecchini’s herb-infused sea salt.
The beef tartare is chopped and pounded tableside before being seasoned with smoked paprika, olive oil, and a citrus kiss of lemon. Some of these hearty dishes are from Cecchini’s family recipes, including the warm beef salad — a Tuscan classic.
The Peak chats with Cecchini about what foodies here can expect from his Singapore outpost.
Why did you decide to be part of Bottega di Carna in Singapore?
It is as simple as having a love for chicken rice. I think we are all looking for affinity with people from around the world. And I think that a culture’s identity is closely intertwined with food. And I thought to myself, “In Singapore, they will understand me because their culture is so closely linked with traditional dishes at its heart.”
At Bottega di Carna, I am bringing a combination of ideas that each of the restaurants represents, with the assistance of chefs Kenny Huang and Alastair Clayton. There’s a wonderful thing about working with chef Kenny — he is from Singapore, yet he speaks Italian, and he understands me and my culture from his years of working in Italy.
When two cultures come together, there’s a sort of communion, and we learn from one another.
I am a butcher who works with chefs. What I do is cut and explain the cuts, and I ask the chefs to put their creativity into working with these cuts. We have to always honour the culture of where we are.
You’re known for serving unconventional beef cuts in your restaurants. What can diners expect here?
The Tenerumi In Insalata (warm beef salad) uses a cut from cow’s knees, which is not commonly used here. My beef tartare uses the Etruscan cut, which is unusual here and which I hope diners will enjoy.
You have been a butcher for more than four decades. What keeps you inspired?
I hope to leave my work and my art a little better than I found them. This is my message for the generations that are coming along: I hope that they will continue the path I have set off on.
How have you been grooming the next generation of butchers?
When I talk about grooming the next generation, it is akin to seeds falling from a tree. In my case, I don’t know where the next tree is going to spring up. But I am sowing seeds in hopes that a new generation will come along and continue to appreciate the craft of butchery.
We’ve had more than 200 students come and work with us at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano from all over the world. These are the seeds that have been sown around the world.