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  • Cooper Halk

Suits & Ties have become Beanies & Beard Nets

Updated: a day ago

Howdy. I’m Cooper, but most folks call me Coop. I’m from Oakdale, a tiny Tennessee town situated along the Emory River, where the Cumberland Plateau meets the Tennessee Valley. I was raised on fried pork chops, homemade mashed potatoes and fried apple pies, an upbringing that instilled in me a love for good food. When I factor in reading authors like Tolkien in school (particularly the pages-long description of a single dinner in “The Hobbit”), it’s no surprise that I ended up with an interest in food journalism. So, when I graduated from high school in 2016, I uprooted and moved to Murfreesboro where I studied print journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.


Much of my time was spent learning how to write and report news for the media; my passion, however, was (and is) food writing. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I spent a month and a half searching and applying for relevant jobs. Eventually, I realized pretty much no one wants to hire a recent graduate with nearly nothing on his resume – especially not in the middle of a pandemic. Following that realization, I got a job as a line cook at a large chain restaurant in Murfreesboro.


While I can honestly say I learned a lot as a cook, that job was not what I imagined it to be. Instead, it was a collection of long, hot and stressful shifts that frequently ended with me leaving the restaurant at midnight and waking up at 5 AM wondering how I’d gotten to my bed. At the end of two months there, I was exhausted, bored and craving something new. I started browsing job listings online. One particular title caught my eye: a meat cutter position at a shop in Franklin called the Butcher Block. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but my curiosity was piqued so I applied for the position. A few days later, I walked into the shop for an interview; that evening, I received a message that I was hired.


At that point, I didn’t know much about meat, let alone trimming, cutting and preparing it for sale. My expectations didn’t even begin to touch the tip of the iceberg. Following my first day, I realized I knew next to nothing at all about it. Terms I’d heard before but didn’t fully understand were commonplace: choice, prime, filet, chuck, primal, silver skin… the list goes on. Rather than square-bladed cleavers, an arsenal of curved knives of varying sizes hung on the wall. In fact, I didn’t even know we had a regular cleaver until about four weeks into the job. Oh, and it was cold. Very cold.


Now, I’m about a month and a half into working at the ‘Block. I’ve learned a lot and learn more every day, and not just about cutting meat. I can confidently spatchcock a whole chicken, operate the bandsaw, cut various types of meat to specification – don’t even get me started on my plastic-wrapping skill progress. That being said, what I’ve done up to this point is just wading into the waters. What I have learned will always need improvement, the vast pool of knowledge and skills I haven’t even touched yet notwithstanding.


So far, my experience at the ‘Block is far from a slow burn. I step into the shop and immediately start moving. Long bouts of trimming, cutting, hauling and packing are briefly interrupted by mouthfuls of coffee, assisting customers or making sandwiches at the deli counter. Freezing, raw meat-covered hands are washed then sullied again; tables are cleaned and then bloodied again; rinse, repeat.


And so for now, that's the scoop with me: Coop.


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2020 by The Butcher Block