Kari Underly is a butcher on a mission to take Chicago’s meat scene to the next level. The city has long been nicknamed “hog butcher for the world,” and now with Underly’s ambitions, that moniker can carry a lot more validity. In line with the changing climate around whole animal usage in restaurants and in-house butchering, Underly authored a James Beard Award-nominated book, The Art of Beef Cutting — A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising. Now she’s prepared to raise the “steaks” by working on a Chicago-based butchery school.
Butchering is in Underly’s blood. As a third generation butcher, she helped put herself through college cutting meat. Her career evolved into Range, a company that serves to train those in the meat industry and merchandise meat cuts. As more and more people become interested in butchery and making a profit off of it, Range has been met with success. In response to all the questions she was being asked about butchery, Underly wrote a book on the subject, The Art of Beef Cutting — A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising. “There’s been a shift in how people want to purchase and think about food,” explains Underly. “We’ve seen a resurgence of interest in the butcher, which at one point was becoming obsolete.” In light of this, her book and her company serve to expose opportunities for people to acquire skills about butchery. But that’s not all. Underly’s passion, which she is working on now, is to develop a butchery school in Chicago, covering everything from whole animal utilization and old-fashioned charcuterie to business knowledge.
Underly believes strongly that in this day and age, there is a place for a butchery school. She explains that the model is there and that a butchery school certificate can be powerful – plus, Chicago is starting to get more legs as a meat mecca of the world. She says the school would draw students from across the country to take part in her nine months to a year certification program. The school will also feature a strong retail outlet and what she’s dubbing a “meatery” sandwich shop. Her business plan for the school is done; now it’s a matter of finding ways to fund the project. She’s looking for a location around 25,000 square feet. Down the road, if the school takes off, she’d like to establish storefront in under-served neighborhoods in the city.
As far as what it’s like being a butcher, a role stereotypically filled by burly men, Underly says she just doesn’t think of it in gender roles. In fact, she welcomes and enjoys the role placed upon her as a pioneer in the field.
“The women’s role in the meat world has taken off,” Underly emphasizes. “For [students] to see other women doing it is motivational.”