Dubai: World's most famous butcher shares secret of making the 'perfect steak'

Dario Cecchini, legendary butcher from Tuscany, reflects on his heritage, techniques, new Dubai venture and mastering the meat


Husain Rizvi

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Published: Wed 29 May 2024, 6:43 PM

In the world of culinary arts, few names evoke as much reverence as Dario Cecchini, the legendary eighth-generation butcher from Tuscany. Born just steps away from his family’s butcher shop, Cecchini has spent nearly 50 years perfecting his craft and upholding a legacy that dates back centuries. Now, as the driving force behind Carna at SLS Dubai, he brings his unparalleled expertise and passion for sustainable, whole-animal butchery to a new audience. In a conversation with City Times, Cecchini shares insights into his upbringing, his unique techniques, and his idea of a perfect steak. Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your upbringing in Tuscany and how it influenced your career as a butcher?

I was born in our family home 10 meters from the butcher shop door. My mother and father worked in the butcher shop, and my grandmother took care of my little sister and I. My mother told me the first person I saw in my life, the moment I was born, was my father, wearing his butcher's jacket.

What does it mean to you to be an eighth-generation butcher, and how has your family's legacy shaped your approach to your craft?

For me, being a butcher is not only a matter of heritage – I am an 8th generation butcher – but next year will also mark my 50th year in the trade. This legacy has instilled in me a great sense of responsibility. I feel it's my duty to carry forward the ideals of my family: ensuring the animals are well-cared for, providing them ample space to move around, and utilising every part of the animal, from nose-to-tail. I continue to uphold these principles at Carna in Dubai.

What have been some of the most pivotal moments in your career that have defined your journey as a master butcher?

Having to start working without a strong foundation, as my parents passed away young, was significant. I had to abandon my university studies in veterinary science, and learned to rely on the few skills of a butcher and of veterinary science to find a synthesis that worked for me.

Can you share some of your unique butchery techniques that differentiate your work from others?

I don't know if I have a way of working that is so different from others, but it is likely different as a whole, because I truly seek from every muscle, from every tendon, from every cut and part of the animal, to find the very best recipe possible. I also do my best to use each cut the very best way possible. I think maybe this differentiates my work from others - I try to find harmony.

What are the essential elements that go into crafting the perfect steak, from selection to preparation?

The animal must be raised well. The meat should be well aged, not killed too young, and must have had a good life. The harvesting of the animal should be carried out with the least stress possible. Then, the meat must fall into the hands of a fantastic chef, like my chef Fatehi at Carna in Dubai. It’s essential to have a good butcher who guarantees a good cut of well-raised beef.

What tips can you share with home cooks for preparing and cooking the perfect steak?

I grill my steaks without salt beforehand and without marinades. It's important that the meat is taken out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before grilling to come to full room temperature. A glass of red wine, such as a Chianti Classico is the most appropriate, for the grill master. I grill my steaks for 6 or 8 minutes per side, low down over the hot grill. Once the meat is grilled to your liking, it should rest for about 5 minutes before serving. After the steak is sliced and served, you can add some salt and a drizzle of olive oil if desired. For me, the best salt is my Profumo del Chianti, a salt that is mixed with herbs of Tuscany.

What are some common mistakes people make when cooking steak, and how can they avoid them?

People often make mistakes like not letting the meat come to full room temperature, salting it before grilling, marinating it, or using fuels that are not great; hardwood charcoal is ideal.

Dario Cecchini is a legendary eighth-generation butcher from Tuscany, Italy
Dario Cecchini is a legendary eighth-generation butcher from Tuscany, Italy

As someone who has experienced steakhouses around the world, what qualities do you believe make a steakhouse truly exceptional?

Having experience in steakhouses around the world, I believe now is the right moment to transition from a steakhouse to the concept of a whole cow house, as we are doing. Using only the classic de-boned steak fillets and the classic steaks is not very sustainable. I want people to be responsible carnivores.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become a butcher or enter the culinary field?

Follow your heart. Follow your passion. As the fox said to the Little Prince, "What is essential is often invisible to the eyes."

How did the collaboration with Carna at SLS Dubai come about?

The collaboration was born out of my very good luck when SLS Dubai came to me with a request, which I immediately accepted. I think SLS in Dubai is one of the most beautiful buildings I've seen, and Carna is a jewel in the crown.


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