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Not forgetting his roots, Bryan Tremayne, the owner and founder of Primal Cuts Meat Market in Bend, points to a large butcher’s knife and sharpening tool he’s recently inherited from his grandfather.
“Yeah, my dad sent that to me, and I’m going to get it mounted or something. It belonged to my grandfather, who was also a butcher,” said Tremayne, pointing to the carving set on his dining room table in his cozy home. “You can tell it’s worn down because this blade was originally a quarter to a half inch larger than it is now. And look at the sharpening tool; it’s been worn down smooth. There aren’t any ridges left.”
At his small, comfortable west-side home in Bend, Tremayne says he’s always loved food, but he didn’t imagine he’d be doing what his grandfather did decades before.
Tremayne first came to Bend with his brother on a lark when he was fresh out of high school, looking to be a ski bum. Later he found his way to Alyeska, Alaska, another ski resort, where he learned to be a line cook.
“It wasn’t anything fancy, mainly grilling food,” said Tremayne. “What I realized is, if you knew how to cook, you could go to any ski resort and find work.”
Tremayne made his way back to Bend, got another job cooking at a restaurant and found other mentor chefs who took their jobs very seriously.
“I learned so much more with this restaurant job, like making hollandaise sauce, and learning new techniques. I found it all interesting,” said Tremayne. “I decided to get serious about learning to cook and train as a chef, so I went to the Portland Culinary Institute.”
After graduating, Tremayne found what he calls “wonderful chef jobs” in Portland, including a lengthy stint on the ship Portland Spirit that cruised the Columbia River daily. He also helped his friend start up Gravy restaurant.
But always wanting to learn more about his profession, Tremayne took a job doing research and development for Pacific Natural Foods, helping launch a line of canned organic soups.
Despite his successes in Portland, Tremayne says the mountains beckoned him back to Bend.
“I came back and worked at Zydeco for two years, but I was looking around here, and I said, ‘Where’s the butcher shop?’” said Tremayne. “In Portland you could find the butchers and the sausage makers, but here I couldn’t find anyone. And that’s when I thought I could fill a void.”
Though he wanted to fill a niche as the local butcher, the banks weren’t as enthusiastic about his plans.
“I spent a year working on a business plan, and I took it to six, seven, eight banks, and they all turned me down,” said Tremayne. “But I finally got backing from The Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council. I found the right location for the shop, and business gets better and better every year. I’ve seen about 50 to 75 percent growth every month.”
Key to his success, according to Tremayne, is carrying as much local product as possible and products that haven’t been injected with growth hormones.
“We carry DD Ranch Beef, Sand Lily Farms goat meat, High Desert Rabbit Ranch, Great American Eggs out of Powell Butte, and Cada Dia Cheese,” said Tremayne.
“We also have local bison, lambs and pigs. I’ve met all the ranchers and farmers whose product I carry. The more I know about their product, the more I can talk to our customers about them.”
Though he doesn’t carry it regularly, Tremayne says he will special order the much-maligned and California-banned foie gras.
“I do love foie gras, but I understand why people get bent out shape over its production,” said Tremayne. “But I will special order it for some customers, but it’s very expensive; I can’t even afford it.”
Cooking at home
In his home kitchen, Tremayne uses his favorite knife to chop an onion and takes out his favorite kitchen item — a stainless steel fry pan — to cook an egg.
Without apology or hesitation, he takes a generous tablespoon of white bacon fat from a jar, and dollops it into the hot pan. It sizzles and the smell is sublime, as he cracks an egg over the crackling fat.
“You don’t want to deep fry everything, every day, but it’s like anything else, too much of anything is bad for you,” said Tremayne, as he skillfully flips the egg. “My philosophy is you have to balance the good fats with the bad fats. But there’s nothing like a good fried egg cooked in bacon fat on a Sunday morning.”
While his tastes tend to run simple, Tremayne is an adventurous eater, and while he can talk shop about the Pittsburgh steak, the Kansas City style cut and other fancy steak names, Tremayne takes pride in enjoying the other, less popular parts of an animal.
“Oh I love pig heads, especially the pork cheeks,” said Tremayne with a smile. “Head cheese, I’ve made that right here in this kitchen. You boil the head down, and it makes this gelatin-flavored pork stock, and you get the leftover meat; it’s sort of like a pâté, held up by the gelatin.”
Though he doesn’t carry headcheese in the shop, Tremayne says he can order about anything for his customers, and he’ll always try to get it locally first.
Tremayne doesn’t flinch when he talks about sweetbreads and offal, too, and mentions one of his favorite chefs, Chris Cosentino, who has a website called Offal Good. (Offal is the entrails and internal organs of an animal.)
“If I see that on a menu, I’ll order it, because you know it’s going to be well prepared, and it’s delicious,” says Tremayne. “The heart and the tongue are also very good.”
Though the banks all turned him down, it would appear Tremayne has managed to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
“The location of my shop has been amazing. I get the skiers coming down from the mountain who want something fast to grill for dinner; I get the local people coming in, and really the community as a whole has been great about supporting Primal Cuts,” said Tremayne.
What are the three ingredients you’ll always find in your home kitchen cupboard or refrigerator?
Butter, garlic and onions. These three ingredients make just about everything taste better.
Favorite home meals you like to prepare?
I like to prepare simple pasta dishes with fresh sausage and veggies.
What is your favorite home appliance in your kitchen?
The dishwasher! We don’t have a commercial dishwasher in the shop, so I have to wash all the dishes by hand — no fun at all!
What is your favorite hand tool/cooking utensil in your home kitchen?
A good egg pan. You can’t beat a perfectly cooked (in bacon grease) over-easy egg.
What is your spice of choice?
I can’t pick just one, all the spices have their place, as long as they’re balanced out with the rest of the ingredients.
What chefs do you admire most?
One of my favorite chefs that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and eating his food is John Besh of Restaurant August, in New Orleans.
Though I haven’t eaten his food, another chef that I admire is Chris Cosentino, who has a great food philosophy, because he’s known for preparing nose to tail and offal dishes. He’s the chef of Incanto and owner of Boccalone: Tasty Salted Pig Parts Charcuterie in San Francisco.
What local restaurants do you enjoy?
Zydeco, Boken, Ariana, Victorian Café, I could keep going but the list would probably be too long.
Guilty food pleasure? Foie gras.
What is your ideal dream home kitchen?
All the amenities of a commercial kitchen, but more compact.
What do you like to do outside of your shop’s kitchen? In other words what happens when the butcher’s coat comes off?
I like all the stuff that Central Oregon has to offer: I love to snowboard, mountain bike and golf. The shop is getting to the point where I can start taking time off to do these things.
Favorite food quote, or philosophy?
Always get the freshest, highest quality food you can find. It’s important to know where your food is coming from. The locavore movement tries to get people to think about this, you don’t want to get product that’s been shipped all the way from California or Chile. If it’s from Oregon, you know it’s going to be fresher.