A Boston native, Connor Ryan’s first love is writing. After high school, he enrolled at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont and graduated with his undergraduate degree in English and political science.
But his second love is cooking, which is why he decided to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY after graduation. Here he learned anything and everything about the culinary arts. But after working as a sous chef for 7 years, he decided he needed a change—a career change into butchery.
“One of my main reasons for this was the workload,” Connor says. “I had been working 6 to 7 days a week for most of my 20s and I needed to get out of the kitchen.”
His other reason was due to the lack of knowledge that the owners, managers, and employees of the restaurants he worked in had about how they were sourcing their meat.
“I had been working at really nice restaurants—James Beard award-winning, Michelin-star restaurants—and even they couldn’t tell you the name of the farmer where they were getting their meat from,” he explained.
This hit home because his very first kitchen job had been at the farm-to-table restaurant located at The Inn at Shelburne Farms in Vermont. Here, everyone knew the source of the meat and ingredients since they came directly from the farm on site.
So, Connor began searching for butcher jobs in the area, and came across an entry-level position at Fleishers, a craft butchery in New York City. During his time at Fleishers, he trained on whole animal butchery, which is the technique of cutting from, and utilizing, the whole animal carcass rather than outsourcing packed and boxed cuts.
“When I started with Fleishers I had almost no experience; just the basic butcher stuff,” Connor said. “But after 5 years with them, I became one of their head butchers and was in charge of training in Connecticut.”
From Fleishers, Connor found a job at the butcher shop Savenor’s Market in Boston, MA. Once frequented by Rockefellers, Kennedys, and Schlesingers, Savenor’s reached the pinnacle of recognition with the help of America’s first celebrity chef, Julia Child.
While working at these various positions over time, Connor learned that his third love is whole animal butchery, which was becoming more popular in the industry today.
But being a whole animal butcher means he’s in a very niche industry. “Jobs that actually utilize all the skills that I have are actually few and far between,” Connor said.
Which is why when he saw a job posting at Foothills Meats in Black Mountain, he packed up his belongings and moved his whole life to Western North Carolina.
As Foothills’ head butcher, Connor now leverages his whole animal butchery skills every single day, and what he’s really passionate about is starting an educational program for locals and visitors who may not know what Foothills actually does for their community.
“What [owner] Casey [McKissick] is doing is more expensive and much harder,” Connor explained, “but he actually believes in propping up the farms in the area.”
Connor loves that Foothills Meats is an anchor point for smaller, locally sourced, sustainable food agriculture, which he says is something that has been dying out in this country for a long time.
“Anywhere that does this is worth taking a look at,” he said.
Newly settled in his position, Connor spends his time traveling around town and learning the ins and outs of his new environment. Whenever he has free time, Connor enjoys reading, painting, and remembering his first love—writing.
His favorite item on the menu at Foothills? He says you can’t go wrong with the burger.
“It’s just a simple, delicious burger,” Connor said. “It’s made well, everything is fresh every week, and I even make the grind for it, which means I know exactly what’s going into it.”