As executive chef Luke VerHulst lays out paper-thin slices of charcuterie, a signature appetizer at the award-winning Reserve Wine & Food in downtown Grand Rapids, he describes how to butcher a cow. Talking about turning protein into premium cuts and charcuterie may seem strange amidst the sleek design of this reimagined bank building, but it showcases the dedication of VerHulst and the Reserve kitchen team. They serve upscale comfort food, and do as much as possible in-house.

“You need a big table and you have to be strong to move it around because they weigh around 1,200 pounds,” VerHulst says of his beef, noting that pigs are lightweights in comparison, weighing in at around 230 pounds. “It was daunting at first, but it also gave us a lot of opportunity to learn different cuts, including some very unique and tasty ones such as onglet, Denver, Scotch tender and spider cuts.”

The unlikely—and dare we say unappetizing—name of the latter refers to steaks carved from above the hip of a bovine. Not well known here at all, they’re very popular in France.

“You only get two spider cut steaks out of a cow,” says VerHulst. “Scotch tenders, which come out of the shoulder blade and are very similar to filet mignon, only smaller and more difficult to get to, yield about four steaks on each side.” To keep up with demand means processing a whole lot of cows. But the quality and flavor is of utmost importance. “Our clients are used to very tender, high quality meat.”

Unlike many top chefs, VerHulst never attended culinary school. Indeed, he learned some of his butchering techniques from YouTube videos. Neither has he labored in restaurants around the globe. He’s hardly traveled out of state, but he knows the farms and food producers of Michigan.

“Almost everything is from within 50 miles and is seasonal. My sourcing methods are important to me,” he says, noting that he works with about 40 farms. “One of the reasons I wanted to become a chef is I wanted to be responsible for what people are eating, and that’s what I’m getting to do.”

Photos by Bultema Group

This article originally appeared in the 2019 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

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Ever since she started her own newspaper at age eight, Jane Simon Ammeson has loved to write. She writes about food, travel and history, and is the author of 14 books, including "How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away With It."

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