In an on-going series of interviews, Source Chefs profiles prominent individuals involved in the South African food industry to discover their personal stories, motivations and to share their advice. This month we interviewed meat merchant, Andy Fenner, from Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants, a full-scale butchery in the heart of Cape Town, South Africa.
Andy Fenner is an ex marketing, ex branding, ex advertising, blogger turned writer turned meat merchant. “It’s been a weird ride.” He quipped. “I was a pretty well established food writer and was running a design company with my wife Nicole when I read a series of books (and saw a few documentaries) based on the US agriculture systems: Eating Animals, Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Inc. etc. They shook me to my core. I mean, here I was, being paid to write about food and I had never really stopped to ask where it all came from. I made a decision to only eat meat if people could tell me the story behind it. Nobody could,” he explains. “So I began a (very long) process of meeting with farmers who were actually treating their animals properly. Sadly, there were only a handful of them and they were all small, independent operations. So I opened a shop. I want people to meet these farmers and celebrate their produce.” Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants only sells free-range, grass-fed and pasture reared animals. “We only sell meat from farms that we have visited ourselves.” Fenner explains, “We can tell you the name of the farm, the name of the farmer, the breed of the animal, what it ate, where it was slaughtered and how old it was.” They want people to ask as many questions as possible because they feel buying meat is a responsibility that is overlooked in modern society. Their slogan: At Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants, we believe having a relationship with your food matters. Andy clarifies, “Most people buy meat from supermarkets where it is a world of polystyrene and plastic. At Frankie Fenner you will see whole carcasses, you will see blood, and you will see band saws. You will see real butchery. We do this deliberately because we think people need to make an attachment with meat (as an end product) and the animal it came from.” Andy is accomplished at many things, one of which is being an incredible writer. He has a fantastic blog and is the author of the gastronomic guide ‘Taking it Easy’. “We have genuine, world class talent in this country. Taking it Easy was a way of showcasing 20 of these talents,” Fenner, talking the inspiration behind the recipe book, “I’m lucky enough to travel quite a bit and part of these trips have involved eating in Copenhagen, London, San Sebastian, Barcelona and many more. But every time I come home I am even more aware at how quickly our local chefs are putting South Africa on the world food map.” “Nose-to-tail eating is what inspires me, where lesser fancied cuts are used properly.” He says that he’s a produce guy and this is one of the things that makes him ‘tick’ as a foodie. “I will take good quality ingredients over technique any day. I hate overworked, fiddly food. I would rather see a chef having the confidence to let flavours speak for themselves.” His pet hate in restaurants is chefs trying to be too fancy. He adds, “Purees, foams, edible soil etc. need to be handled very well to impress me. Often they are just there for the sake of it.” “It’s important for chefs to know the origin of the food they cook with because Chefs are the ones with the power to get the public to start asking questions. If they are using an unusual cut people will learn about that cut. Likewise, if they are listing the farm name where the produce was from, the farmer is finally getting the recognition they deserve,” he adds. His craziest moment didn’t happen in a kitchen but in a restaurant in Copenhagen. “The chef at a restaurant in the city that I have always wanted to eat at (BROR), somehow knew who I was when I arrived. At one point he brought out a roasted pig head, an apron and a massive knife. He then made me carve the meat. This was all happening in front of David Chang (Korean-American chef), who was seated at the table next to me.” His biggest inspiration is a butchery in Brooklyn called The Meat Hook. He says that he draws a lot of ideas from them. Through social media he follows them (read stalks) on Instagram, Twitter etc. and strikes up conversations based on the love of good meat. Fenner finds it ‘trippy’ that these guys that he admires so much are sitting somewhere in New York chatting with a tiny Cape Town butchery. After a hard day’s work you’ll probably find him enjoying a glass at the wine bar that he jokes “we were stupid enough to build inside the butchery.” He says that walking past without stopping at his own watering hole is tricky, but adds, “I normally hit the mountain for a trot around one of the trails, or a walk with my wife and my dogs in one of our local parks.” Grass-fed beef brisket, shoulder of mutton, still-shimmering tuna, sardines, fresh fennel bulbs, and ginger, chilli and lemongrass are his favourite ingredients to cook with. “Anything as long as it’s in season.” He adds that “Simple food, executed well” is the food he enjoys most. His number one kitchen rule: “Life’s too short for cheap wine, cheap meat or cheap coffee. These are the holy trinity. If you are trying to save money on any of these you’re failing at life.” Hear hear.