Photograph by Ben Rollins
Patrick Gebrayel has the massive hands and brawny shoulders of someone who carves up beasts for a living. On his business cards, Gebrayel identifies himself as the “Head Meat Head” of Heywood’s Provision Company, the butcher shop—focused on local and sustainably raised animals—he opened two years ago in an East Cobb shopping center. He’s not the type to wear a bloodstained apron while he helps customers from behind the long counter. But when he casually references carcasses or mentions that one day he’d like to own an abattoir, he can send a shiver down the spine of the squeamish.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Gebrayel gravitated to jobs in large hotels and resorts that had in-house butchering departments. He worked at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., for Jean-Louis Palladin, the groundbreaking chef who died in 2001 and gave him the nickname of Heywood—as in, “Hey, would you do this?” In 2005, when Gebrayel was executive chef at Sugarloaf Country Club, he wasn’t satisfied with the wan taste and rubbery texture of the sausages he could find locally. (This was before ambitious independent charcuterie stores like Avondale Estates’ Pine Street Market and Kirkwood’s Spotted Trotter opened.) Gebrayel began to make his own products, and chefs from other clubs would ask if they could buy his handiwork. He’d found his calling.
He buys whole animals locally: Berkshire pork and grass-fed beef from Riverview Farms an hour north of Atlanta; lamb, beef, and free-range chickens from White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia; and, seasonally, organic turkeys from Lazy Eight Stock Farm in Kentucky. The steaks and chops at Heywood’s are cut to order. Guanciale (cured pork jowl), Georgia trout, duck confit, and ground beef with bacon are all worth a drive. Among the pleasures of shopping in an actual butcher shop is the near certainty that Gebrayel or another staffer will offer samples of deliciously dense deli ham or silky prosciutto.
Gebrayel also makes superb charcuterie. Take his Braunschweiger, a smoked liverwurst that will convert doubters. He mixes pork liver in equal proportions with pork shoulder and pork cheeks, whose creamy fat is essential to the recipe. He passes the meat multiple times through an electric grinder about the size of a small car. Then he adds housemade curing salt, which includes a minuscule amount of sodium nitrite (an antimicrobial preservative considered safe in trace quantities). He flavors the meat with allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper before a hydraulic stuffer injects the mixture into thin collagen casings, where it sits overnight before gently cooking in his smokehouse. “That saying about how it’s better not to see laws and sausages being made? I can’t speak to politics, but there’s no mystery to what we’re doing,” Gebrayel says. “That’s why we have big windows in front of our production area: We invite our customers to come watch every step of the process.”
Riverview Farms sells Gebrayel’s products via its itinerant Farm Mobile, and you can taste his pepperoni on a pie at Varasano’s Pizzeria, his corned beef as a special at Meehan’s Public House, and many of his pork iterations (andouille, tasso, bacon, ham hocks) at the Mill Kitchen & Bar in Roswell. But it’s much more satisfying to stand across Gebrayel’s counter, tasting an experimental lamb pepperoni and chuckling at the business permits he’s hung upside down, getting to know Atlanta’s most progressive and droll chef-butcher. 2145 Roswell Road, Marietta, 404-410-7997, heywoodsmeat.com
This article originally appeared in our July 2013 issue.