“I don’t know how I got here,” Jason Nauert says with a laugh.
After years of working in construction, law enforcement and landscaping, Nauert, 45, reached his late 30s and felt as though his body was breaking down. It was time to find a new path, and he realized he was good at two things: butchering and cooking. At the urging of his wife, he explored the idea of culinary school; however, a $50,000 tuition was not in the cards. But Cook Street School in Denver offered courses a la carte. Nauert signed up for a class in butchering offered by the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat.
“Day one I fell in love with it,” he says. “I knew how to cut meat. I didn’t know I knew how to do it that well.”
His instructor, Mark DeNittis, was the director of the institute, and from the start Nauert wanted to know how to make this his career. Nauert went from pupil to assistant to owner, as he bought the institute. But the process caught him by surprise. “It wasn’t my intention to create a business,” Nauert says.
What started as an educational platform for culinary students has morphed into much more, including teaching the Army. Working with Special Forces, what Nauert describes as “the baddest of the baddest dudes,” he’s learned that when he asks what they do, they can’t answer.
What Nauert does is train their support staff on how to feed soldiers in the field—everything from identifying and purchasing whole, often exotic, animals in local markets to the butchering and meal planning.
Besides training soldiers for their time in the field, he’s working to help them get employed in local kitchens when their service is over. He plans to hire 75 percent veterans at his own restaurant, Beasts & Brews, scheduled to open in March or April.
The restaurant, located near North Gate Boulevard and Voyager Parkway in northern Colorado Springs, will feature a butcher shop in the front and restaurant with serve-your-own beer taps in back. Nauert says the menu will feature some consistent anchors, but will also change seasonally based on what’s available from local meat and produce sources.
“We will have a lot of beasts, not all game and exotic,” he says. Think yak burgers, wild boar Bolognese and ostrich steaks—yes, all from local sources.
IT’S CLEAR THAT LOCAL is important to Nauert. He sounds passionate as he describes the disconnection that most of us have from our food. “We can order on Amazon Prime and have food delivered from Whole Foods,” he says. “That’s the furthest you can get from your food—to order from your phone and have it delivered to your door.”
Most people, though, don’t know the origins of that food. “Not just where does our meat come from, but where do your vegetables come from? Where do your spices come from?” he says. If you’re using McCormick’s spices for example, Nauert says it’s unlikely that you can identify the source of that spice, or that the spice has a single origin.
By contrast, looking to local vendors increases your chance of pinpointing the origin of your food. Rather than grabbing spices at the grocery store, Nauert suggests using a shop like Savory Spice, which was founded in Denver and has a shop in Colorado Springs. Chat with the owners, and they can tell you where a spice originated.
Not surprisingly, Nauert is a strong proponent of buying meat from sources closer to home as well for reasons of sustainability, food safety and local economics. This can be done through local shops and vendors or through direct contact with ranchers. (See “Where’s the Beef? And Pork and Chicken?” at right.) Nauert says most local farmers have websites.
“The best way for people to find local farmers for various meats is to find restaurants that use local ranch meats and ask questions about who they use,” he advises. “Or when I open [Beasts & Brews], just ask me or my staff!”
Understanding that local is often equated with higher costs, Nauert has a vision for a collective of area chefs working together to make strategic purchases from local farmers based on their needs and availability, then splitting up the inventory based on their menus. He envisions a map of Colorado that pinpoints organic ranches. For Nauert, these are puzzle pieces that connect and support smaller, independent ranches and local chefs.
“We need to change our way of thinking and how we write our menus,” he says.
IN NOVEMBER, Nauert assisted a Denver Post reporter who wanted to write about killing her own Thanksgiving turkey. He assured her she didn’t have to (she did), explaining that the day before he kills an animal he feels anxiety.
Growing up in Woodland Park, Nauert was a hunter. But that act provides a distance between hunter and prey. What he does now is different. “It does give me anxiety,” he says. “I believe that every creature has a soul.
“I know I have to take a life in order to eat. That’s personal,” he says, making a strong case for the vegetarians among us. “But I’m a meat eater. I accept what I am.”
Nauert’s favorite meals are usually home-cooked with wild game, specifically his osso bucco. He says his wife, Jessica, wasn’t a fan of game, and he knows many people are averse to its characteristic strong flavors. The solution, he says, is to begin cooking when the meat is thawed but still semifrozen. “The key to wild game is brine if you don’t like the gamey flavor,” he adds.
When pushed for a favorite meal out, Nauert thinks for a moment before naming Mario Vasquez’ short ribs at Colorado Craft. Of course, when the doors to Beasts & Brews open, that stands to change.
Where’s the Beef? (and Pork and Chicken)?
If headlines like last December’s announced recall of 12 million pounds of ground beef have you wary of mass-produced meat, eating out isn’t your only option for getting your hands on locally grown foods. Nauert partners frequently with Rocky Mountain Organic Farms in Black Forest. Like him, you can source your meat from local ranchers and farmers—and you don’t even have to buy a half or whole cow either, though it can be an option. A little research and Googling can yield many results; here’s a list to get you started.
Ranch Foods Direct
In 2000, rancher and family farm advocate Mike Callicrate started selling high-quality, naturally-raised beef directly to the public. With the expanded retail location at 1228 E. Fillmore Street, customers have access to a variety of meats, heat-and-serve meals, artisan breads, prepared foods and fresh local vegetables and fruit.
Corner Post Meats
You can order and pick up meat in Black Forest where Corner Post bases its conservation ranching to promote sustainable grasslands and bird habitat certified by the Audubon Society. But if you’re after a steady supply of beef, poultry, pork or lamb, their Farm2Freezer CSA (community-supported agriculture) delivers a small or large box of meat cuts every month.
Lasater Grasslands Beef
The nature-first philosophy of the fourth-generation Lasater family ranch, based in Matheson, about 50 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, has received national attention from the likes of the New York Times best-seller Fast Food Nation. You can find their grass-fed beef in stores such as Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods and Mountain Mama Natural Foods. Or order directly from their website.
Rafter W Ranch
You can order grass-fed, nose-to-tail beef products, as well as lamb, chicken and eggs from this small Simla-based family farm. Ship directly to your home or pick up in Black Forest, Monument or northern Colorado Springs.