Kelly Kawachi is inspiring Coloradans to support the local agricultural community, one flavorful salami or tender wagyu steak at a time. Kawachi—who was promoted from apprentice to head butcher at Boulder’s Blackbelly in March—works with chef-owner Hosea Rosenberg to oversee the whole animal butchery and charcuterie program at the restaurant and market. There, she educates customers about the value of buying goods from local meat merchants that source responsibly raised livestock from ranches like Longmont’s Buckner Family Ranch, Parker’s Bootheel 7 Ranch, and Brush’s McDonald Family Farm.

“I wish more people understood what it truly means to buy from butcher shops like ours that support smaller ranchers,” Kawachi says.We are aware that it’s more expensive than the average grocery store, but if you prioritize what you put in your body, then the reason why is a worthwhile one. You are going to get much higher quality and an extremely local product that makes a difference for so many reasons, from health to environmental.” 

Kelly Kawachi, head butcher at Blackbelly in Boulder. Photo courtesy of Blackbelly

Kawachi, a native of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, joined the Blackbelly team in 2016, when Rosenberg expanded his then two-year-old farm-to-table restaurant to include an adjacent  butcher shop and fast-casual breakfast and lunch spot. Since then, Kawachi has mastered the art of breaking down whole animals using European-style, seam-cutting techniques: methods that honor the contours of the animal’s muscles with cuts along its “seams” to yield minimal waste and produce better cuts. She has also honed her charcuterie-making skills and produces delicious creations like chile- and garlic-spiked chorizo, three-month-cured pork shoulder coppa, and pork terrine studded with olives and piquillo peppers.

In spring/summer 2022, patrons will be able to enjoy more meaty fare from Blackbelly, which will expand its butcher shop under Kawachi’s leadership. The new market will also include a larger space with more seating and additional menu offerings. While details aren’t finalized yet, the larger footprint will allow for a larger retail section; more prepared foods like soups, stews, stocks,  and salads; house-made breads, pastries, and other baked goods; espresso drinks; and small shareable charcuterie plates. Expanded hours will include weekends and possibly evenings, in addition to the current breakfast and lunchtime service. 

In the meantime, Kawachi is excited for patrons to try the comforting dishes on the recently launched winter market menu such as meatball subs and hot bologna sandwiches stuffed with cheddar and potato chips. Also look for weekly specials like andouille po’boys and cassoulet stew and a larger selection of salami and sliced deli meats. 

Here, Kawachi sounds off on what she wishes customers understood about butchery, the best cuts to order, and the one food she can’t live without.

5280: What was it like growing up in Hawaii? How did that upbringing influence the dishes you like to prepare now?
Kelly Kawachi: It is a beautiful place to live and has such a laid-back island culture with a huge emphasis on family. But I definitely took it for granted until I moved to the mainland for college [at Mesa State University in Grand Junction] and soon realized the uniqueness of my upbringing. Due to the immigration that occurred during Hawaii’s plantation days, the island has become such a melting pot for Asian cuisine. Being exposed to that and traditional Hawaiian food has influenced what flavors I seek out and the ingredients I prefer to use.

Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up about butchery?
We often hear complaints about the limited amount of each of the cuts that we have in stock. If people were more familiar with how many of each cut one animal yields, then there would be a better understanding of the quantity available. So we hope to help guests feel more comfortable with lesser-known yet extremely delicious cuts. We suggest that customers discuss the cooking method they want to apply instead of the cut they had their minds set on. This lets us guide them to a similar cut that would be as equally as tasty, while introducing them to something they may never have tried before. 

A steak at Blackbellly. Photo by Joni Schranz

What lesser-known cuts do you recommend?
If someone has their minds set on a top sirloin steak, a culotte—otherwise known as picanha—would be just fine, if not better in flavor. Or instead of a ribeye, try a Delmonico. One that we get a lot is people wanting a tenderloin for its tenderness. However a bistro filet, a little muscle off the shoulder, is just as tender and has a lot more flavor. Lastly, flanks, bavettes, and skirts will all be similar in muscle structure and quite interchangeable cooking wise. They do differ slightly in thickness and tenderness, but will do the job pretty much the same, especially if you are making fajitas or a stir-fry.

What is a food item you just can’t live without?
Rice…I can’t help it, I’m half Japanese!

If you could cook for three people—living or dead—who would they be? What would you make?
There is only one person I wish I could cook for, and that would be my dad. He passed last year, and he absolutely loved food. I would give anything to cook him a 7X wagyu steak that we sell in our shop—either a Delmonico or a Denver steak. He would’ve loved to try those cuts, especially our wagyu beef.

1606 Conestoga St., #3, Boulder