Why Pine Street Market’s Rusty Bowers will never sell filet mignon

Plus 12 other quirky questions for the Avondale Estates butcher
Photo by Jeff Herr
Photograph by Jeff Herr

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Rusty Bowers owns Pine Street Market.

When did you realize you wanted to be in the food industry?
My parents had saved up to take us on a “trip of a lifetime” to Italy when I was 20. I ordered this artichoke lasagna, and what came out were these beautiful wide noodles, olive oil, and braised artichokes. It was this amazing “holy crap!” moment of realizing food is so simple. You don’t need to make it complicated. You don’t need to make foams or tenderizers. Meat should be just pure. When you bite into our bratwurst, you taste heritage pork. That farmer didn’t do all that work and that animal didn’t sacrifice its life for you to taste paprika first.

What got you interested in butchering?
I grew up on the beaches of Jacksonville, but then I had that food epiphany, sold my car, and moved to Maui for a year. With the money from that, I traveled to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Austria. In Austria, I [got a job as a] farmer after seeing an ad at a youth hostel. I was working with potatoes on the farm, and [the owner] came out in this big straw hat, a yellow polo shirt, a speedo, and rain boots to ask if I could help at his convention center. I learned a lot from them about butchering meat and fish and farming. Then I came back stateside and went to the Culinary Institute of America and got my bachelor’s. Everywhere I worked I wound up really gravitating toward butchery.

Was attending culinary school worth it?
I think that’s one of the best decisions of my life. I learned so much with them besides cooking—food trends, how to start a business. I never would’ve started Pine Street Market if I hadn’t gone there.

What’s one thing you wish you knew how to cook?
Peking duck. It’s a five-day process: you hang it, dry the skin, blow air in it to make the skin poof. I’ve asked George Yu at Makan to teach a class on it because I want to learn.

Do you have any pet peeves?
People that aren’t willing to take a risk when it comes to eating meat. My favorite steak is the flat iron, but I have people who come in and want just a New York strip. I will never sell filet mignon or chicken breast. When you see filet mignon or chicken with a heavy sauce or peppercorn-crusted, it’s because it doesn’t taste like anything.

What was the last TV show you bingewatched?
The Andy Griffith Show, which is the greatest show I’ve ever watched. I’d have a beer with Barney Fife. He’s just hilarious.

What’s your guilty pleasure snack or fast food?
Original Pringles. I did an event at the zoo where I was serving bacon jam. I forgot to order crackers before, so I decided to put some Pringles out. They fanned out like a whale’s tail and looked like a high-end appetizer. People were coming back for seconds.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever butchered?
I grew up with a young lady whose parents were very, very Southern.  They had hunted raccoon, so we butchered and roasted it. It tasted like a really delicious tin can and had that earthy funk to it.

What’s your favorite thing about Avondale Estates?
Rising Son. It’s amazing. Today I had the breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs and our bacon. I’ve never had a bad meal there.

What’s the biggest mistake people make when cooking meat?
They overcook the hell out of it. With all the classes we do, I talk about brining. It will give you that buffer so you don’t overcook the meat. And for some reason, our generation is afraid of chicken, like it will kill you in your sleep or something, but [just] take it to 165 degrees.

What would your super power be?
The power to fly. I get tired of traffic, and I am very impatient.

Beer, wine, or cocktails?
Cocktails make me time travel to the next day, so beer or wine. I find beer to be a lot more complex and exciting, but I am on a huge German pilsner kick right now. That and light-bodied Italian reds are my go-to.

What’s your dream vacation destination?
Spend a month in Bangkok and just get lost. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to make no plans and just go. Also Spain and Portugal, and then try to jump over to Morocco. I’ve never been to any of them.