It’s five minutes to 3 p.m. on a steamy June afternoon, and chef Henry Butcher’s takeout restaurant, the Creole Kitchen in Columbus, still has lunch customers trickling in. It’s hot outside, but the heat in his narrow, back-door-less kitchen borders on sauna-like. Butcher, who got here at 5 a.m. and has been on his feet and in the heat for nearly 10 hours, seems completely unfazed.
“My grandmother gave me love for the kitchen,” he says, a trait, as anyone who has ever worked in one knows, you either have or you don’t. Butcher radiates it. “She taught me knife skills, and about making the roux — brown roux for ham and red-eye gravy, black roux for gumbo or etouffee,” he says. At 15, Butcher says he started spending summers in New Orleans washing pots and pans in the gumbo shop where his grandmother worked. Today, his customers can taste these early influences in the gumbo, po boys and other Louisiana classics he serves at his restaurant.
But nearly all of his childhood was good preparation for his future vocation. Growing up in Freeport, Louisiana, about 300 miles northwest of New Orleans, Butcher says he had a close-knit family that produced much of what was on the dinner table every night, an experience that served him well later on in culinary school, and at his previous jobs in fine-dining restaurants throughout central Ohio.
“Comin’ up in the country, I was raised on pork,” he says. “My father and uncles raised hogs, so we had it three, four times a week,” he says. “Plus we were an eatin’ family. Eight boys, two girls, and whoo, we loved to eat,” he chuckles. Butcher remembers watching his father, uncles and grandfather turn the meat from their hogs into spicy andouille sausage (good andouille has potatoes in it, he says) and boudin, another regional specialty sausage made from pork, rice and onions. He also learned, firsthand, exactly where the meat we buy comes from.
“As it was explained to me coming up in life, if a human was on his hands and knees like a hog, you would have a better understanding of meat cuts,” he says. “Primary cuts consist of shoulders, ribs, hams, bacon and pork loin [pork chops come from the loin],” he says. When he’s choosing a meat for grilling, Butcher isn’t afraid of a little animal fat. “A small amount is needed for flavor,” he says. “Ribs are above the bacon, so there are some fatty ribs out there,” he says.
The fatty ribs, or spare ribs, are what keeps the line of customers out the Creole Kitchen door. But you needn’t have roots that run deep into the South to create your own delicious barbecue. Chef Butcher shares his recipes and tips for a spicy barbecue meal that will make you forget which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on.
This month, Chef Butcher launches his new line of Creole seasonings, andouille sausage, tasso ham and other Creole products, currently available only at the restaurant and select Columbus-area retailers. To learn more, visitwww.creolekitchen.biz. Creole Kitchen is located at 1052 B Mt. Vernon Ave. (in the Mt. Vernon Plaza), Columbus, 43203. Phone: 614/372-3333.