After walking through the door of Meat & Fish Co., you'll notice an all-star cast of meats that are on display in giant glass cases. There's also a sizzling plume of steam at the grill, and donning chef's whites, there's executive chef Aaron Cox.
A Charlotte native, Cox got his start working in kitchens across the Q.C., before an apprenticeship took him away from home. He followed his palate across the country — from low-country cuisine in Charleston, to practicing butchery at a resort in the Teton mountains of Wyoming — before returning to be executive chef for the Omni hotel and, later, for the Charlotte Hornets.
Despite climbing Charlotte's culinary ladder, Cox wanted to return to his roots. "I had an interest in moving out of the large volume field. I wanted to do something more intimate and get back to my passion in the restaurant environment," he says. He shared these visions with master meat purveyor Michael LaVecchia, and in January, he left the Hornets to co-found Meat & Fish Co.
In addition to "boutique" proteins sourced from around the world, the Dilworth facility offers daily specials at the deli counter (the hefty muffaletta weighs in at nearly a pound, and is a recent favorite of Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly).
Creative Loafing: What makes good meat, is it genetics or how the animal is butchered? Also, what separates your "boutique proteins" from those at the grocery store butcher?
Aaron Cox: It is a mixture of genetics, the feed, the environment, and the daily attention given to the quality of life of the animal. The stress makes a difference in the quality of the protein itself after production. That's why we only source any proteins that are meticulously cared for to ensure that it's only the highest quality cuts, and only the highest quality fish being seasonally sourced locally to be as sustainable as possible.
Snake River Farms and Double R Ranch are our primary vendors for our prime cuts, and we get Wagyu directly from Japan. We are one of four vendors in the U.S. to carry Wagyu beef. The protein is almost white in appearance because of the marbling involved, and because of that, it increases the moisture and the softness of the bite, as well as the flavor profile of the finished product. We had guests come from Raleigh when they found out we carried it. It's a protein highly regarded by people that take meat very seriously.
How would you describe your typical customer? Chefs, average Joes trying to cook at home, or a little of both?
A little bit of both. Charlotte has become a very food-driven city, but we also have guests that have arrived that don't know how to cook and have questions and want to learn. I try to take as much time as I can, working with those individuals to tell them what that meat is about, and how it is prepared. I am always willing to give recipes and advice. When consumers are looking something special, they'll let me know a list of ingredients or proteins that they're interested in and when those items become available, we bring them into the counter.
For non-foodies, what is a "gateway meat" or recipe that could be used to impress?
Our Kobe beef burgers are highly regarded by burger enthusiasts. Our Wagyu beef hotdogs have also been highly regarded, being that they are a simple food with simple presentation, but we bring that flavor profile up to the next level. We are including those items in our Carolina Cook Out Box, which is part of our soon-to-launch box program available to ship from our website. We will start doing cooking classes not only with myself, but other chefs in the area that we actually sell wholesale to. They are invested in becoming involved.