She is an English teacher by day, a bloody butcher by night. Meet Jenny the Butcher.
Jennifer Tucker, 32, was born and raised in Hell, Michigan. When she was an 18 year old looking for a part time job, Chelsea Market butcher Jeffrey Flintoft took her under his wing. Jennifer met skepticism and resistance because of her youth and gender. This only made her more determined, waking up her “feminism” as she put it. Fifteen years later, she is the chief butcher at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, working under recent James Beard Award winner Chef Alex Young.
Jennifer takes her craft very seriously. She prefers “authentic” cuts, and tries to make each one nicer than the last. She likes seeing a finished product, “Something I created,” adding, “I consider it an art form, the whole culture that goes with it. I am grateful to Jeffrey for teaching me, and I want to honor his memory by doing it well, and passing it on to others.”
Jennifer’s paid her dues. She cleaned the meat floor, and cut a lot of chickens. She can now dissect an entire box in ten minutes. What’s the toughest part of being a butcher? “I can’t wear my wedding ring,” laments this fairly-newlywed, who just celebrated her second anniversary. (A knife tip may get caught, and cause injury.)
Jennifer has a BA in English and Biology from Eastern Michigan University, and teaches English at Washtenaw Community College. A recent Saturday had her awake
at 7am to grade papers, then teaching from 1 – 4pm.
After a quick meal with her Aunts Colleen and Laurie, she punched into Zingerman’s, where she worked until 2 AM. Although she may someday work in academia full time, Jennifer predicts she “will never leave the (meat) business completely.”
Zingerman’s is a rarity among local restaurants, cooking their burgers over a grill rather than a flattop, as Chef Alex likes the oak wood flavor. His 100% grass-fed beef comes from Zingerman’s own Cornman Farms ranch in Dexter. Thanks to Jennifer, it is ground fresh daily, coarser and loosely hand-packed, for maximum flavor and texture. Each burger comes “from one cow, and is not a blend,” notes Zingerman’s co-owner Ari Rosenzweig.
Ari likes his burgers just above rare, with pimento cheese and Arkansas bacon; Jennifer prefers plain
American cheese. “That’s her (small town) upbringing,” jokes Ari.
Jennifer also exemplifies the Zingerman’s service mantra. When our burger panel visited (see August Current), our server brought her out to visit, in her bloody apron, for a long and thoughtful discussion. When I followed up on short notice for this interview, Jennifer cheerfully gave me her time, despite a full restaurant. Butcher, English teacher, or both, Jennifer Tucker has worked hard, defied stereotypes, and served with honor in two disparate careers. Underestimate Jenny the Butcher at your peril.
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