Ariana White has a physically demanding job that calls for heavy lifting and the use of saws and scimitars. Her workplace might sound like a construction site, but in fact it’s the back of a restaurant. And, as one of just a small handful of local female butchers, White is helping revive traditional methods of charcuterie in Vancouver.
White, the butcher at Timber and Forage restaurants, was just seven years old when she started cooking meals for her family while her mom was at work. Having spent part of her childhood on a farm in Agassiz, she learned to raise chickens, ducks, and turkeys. At 13, she became a dishwasher at a Vancouver Island restaurant, moving up to the position of line cook the following year.
By the time she finished high school, there was no question in White’s mind that she wanted to pursue a culinary career. During her training (at Vancouver Island University) and subsequent apprenticeships, she began to notice a recurring theme, one that shifted her focus to butchery.
“The average cook does not know how to butcher something as simple as a tenderloin, let alone a whole animal,” White tells the Straight during an interview at Timber over coffee, two types of lomo (cured tenderloin), and pork-and-duck-offal terrine that she’d made. “People don’t know where their meat comes from, what it looks like before it’s in a package in the grocery store. I find it all fascinating.”
White also loves the precision, skill, and passion that butchery requires. Throughout her 15 years in the industry, she has worked at Windsor Meats and Two Rivers Specialty Meats, among other places. She has learned how to make sausages straight from a Polish master and how to butcher big game like bison, and loves barbecuing items like chicken hearts.
With the physical strength to deadlift at least 80 pounds routinely (a beef or bison shoulder is around 20 pounds per piece; a case has four or five), White is thriving in what’s very much a male-dominated industry. In the past, she’s had men tell her she doesn’t belong. “That fuelled a flame for me,” says White, who dreams of opening her own butcher shop in the Interior, where she plans on moving with her son and husband, a chef. She also hopes to explore cannabis-infused charcuterie.
In the meantime, she’s excited about honing her skills and participating in Swine Out Vancouver. Chefs will pair artisanal charcuterie with local craft beer at the inaugural event, organized by Chefs’ Table Society of B.C. in collaboration with the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association.
Among the chefs participating in the November 5 culinary gathering at Heritage Hall are Tacofino’s Stefan Hartmann, Nicli Antica Pizzeria’s Josh Gale, and Two Rivers Specialty Meats’ Ryan Byrd. Visiting chefs include Dave Mottershall, who’s from Terre Rouge on Prince Edward Island, and Brody White of Kamloops’s Chop’n Block.
White plans on making two dishes for Swine Out: Bierwurst on a house-made brioche beignet with bacon-mustard marmalade and sauerkraut; and cold-smoked pancetta crisp with compressed apples and fermented jalapeño cheese. (Welbert Choi, Timber and Forage executive chef, will join her at the event.)
Swine Out is a chance for chefs to connect and learn from each other, while attendees will get to chow down on a whole lot of fine meat.
“I love charcuterie,” White says. “It’s something I really want to dive into. The flavours are constantly changing. Sometimes people complain that it costs too much money, but what they don’t see is the time and effort that go into it. Charcuterie can take four to five months. Prosciutto takes about two years. Traditional methods are more artisanal—the same idea as what’s been happening with bread, made in a small place by hand versus in a massive commercial factory. It’s delicious."