"I think people need to change the way they look at our food system and everything we consume," says Michael Puglisi, owner and head of Electric City Butcher in Santa Ana. "Our guests are not just coming in to buy a piece of meat. They're actually supporting a way of life—a rooted concept of how we originally came to eat and harvest these animals."
When customers walk into Puglisi's small, chilly shop, they see how food production should be. Puglisi's workers are constantly breaking down whole pigs or slabs of beef and grinding sausage into natural casing. The day's offerings are written on the window; a small freezer stocks everything from preserved yolks to heritage lard. There are no backrooms, no closed doors, no walls separating the public from the butchers. "We want people to see the entire operation and be comfortable with what they're buying," Puglisi says.
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Prior to Electric City Butcher, the New York native spent years cooking and butchering everywhere from the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Beverly Hills. But it was a visit to Puglisi's cousin and his wife in Sicily that inspired the butcher shop. "My cousin and his wife are the farmer and the butcher in a town of 4,500 people," he says. His cousin raises his own meats, processes them, then sells them to the community. "That really resonated with me after I came back to the States. I wanted to have a better source of quality meats for me and my family and replicate what I experienced in a very small, artisanal way."
Finding resources in California wasn't difficult because of the abundance of farmers, but establishing the necessary relationships proved difficult. "Everybody really has their guard up when you're talking about small farms and small processors and direct sourcing," Puglisi says. "They want to make sure you're keeping the integrity of their product and not bastardizing their hard work. It takes two years to raise a good cow—these farmers take a lot of pride in what they do and want to make sure that we're able to do the same."
Apart from the shop, Puglisi offers workshops that give hands-on overviews identifying different parts of the animal, the basics of breaking it down, and how to prepare your favorite cuts. But his most gratifying community outreach is working with MaxLove, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting families with kids fighting cancer through healing foods, whole-body wellness and integrative medicine. "When we met Audra [Wilford] from MaxLove and she told us the organization used bone broth for medicinal purposes, our connection was obvious," he says. The animals from Electric City Butcher are all natural, grass-fed, pasture-raised and everything the ketogenic diet requires. "We provide them all their broth for their broth bank and set up pop-ups with them, teaching bone broth classes," Puglisi explains. Electric City Butcher has even developed a mixed-bone broth recipe, a two-day process in which the bones are slowly simmered so all the connective tissue and nutritional properties emulsify into liquid—culinary medicine.