Michele Carter’s face flushes as she moves around the small island in the middle of Tremont Street’s Butcher Shop, checking in with her prep cooks and stopping to peer at a flat-iron steak in a sauté pan. She adds a pat of butter and bastes the meat quickly with a spoon. She runs through a checklist with her cook over her shoulder, one eye on the pan.
The kitchen, which bangs out 125 covers on a solid night, is the size of a studio apartment. By stretching her arms from where she stands near the island, Carter can have a hand in nearly every dish that sails out the door.
Now the chef de cuisine at Barbara Lynch’s neighborhood butchery-cum-wine-bar, Carter is a former immunoparasitologist from Nebraska. When she realized studying animal parasites might not be her lifelong passion, she abandoned her post at the Harvard School of Public Health and enrolled in cooking school in Sydney, Australia.
“There’s a lot of crossover between the two fields, actually!” says Carter, who brings an intense focus to even minute prep tasks. “You have to be extremely dedicated; you have to be extremely precise and willing to work crazy hours. Following a recipe, following a lab, it’s very specific.”
Carter planned to stay in Sydney after school but returned to the States when both her sisters, her brother, her two best friends, and her mother all planned on getting married in the same year. (The looming $20,000 in flight costs alone made the move back an easy decision.) After a quick stint at Sel de la Terre, fate beckoned. “I saw No. 9 Park was advertising. So I decided that if I got the job, I would stay another year, and if I didn’t, I would move back to Australia,” she says, laughing. “I got the job, so here I am. Every time I thought about moving back, I would get promoted. [Barbara Lynch] Gruppo keeps sucking me in!” After three years at No. 9 Park, where she rose to sous-chef, she left for the restaurant group’s cozier, more casual Butcher Shop.
Back in the kitchen, Carter lays the now-sliced flat-iron over roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes, then puts it up on the pass with a dish of tuna tartare. When a runner takes moments too long to appear, she grabs the plates — “Sorry, one second” — and propels them up the stairs herself.
“What I learned from my mentors was to lead by example,” she says. “When I was at No. 9, Patrick [Campbell, chef de cuisine] would get on the line and scrub it down with us every night. He didn’t expect us to do anything that he wasn’t doing. I really believe in that.”
Carter’s razor-sharp attention to detail and love for her ingredients are hard to miss, but it’s her humility that makes her one of the city’s more compelling culinarians.
“I would love to make some sort of an impact on the food scene here. I just love what I’m doing, and I hope I can keep doing it,” she says. “The best part of it is the hardest part. When the board is completely full, and you’re just pushing the food out and doing the best you can, ticket by ticket. When you’re flying beautiful plates out the door that you can be really proud of, it’s the best.”
The Butcher Shop » 552 Tremont St, Boston :: 617.423.4800 or thebutchershopboston.com