Fresh Meat

Thistle Meats, the picturesque, three-year-old Petaluma butcher shop, reopened under new ownership last week after a three-week closure. Chef Travis Day replaces owner Molly Best and head charcuterie maker Aaron Gilliam.

“I was working at Cavallo Point in Sausalito as the chef de cuisine, and had just started to settle in when I was approached by Aaron,” says Day, who had worked with Gilliam in the past. “He let me know that the shop was going to be up for sale. Once all the pieces started to fall into place, it really felt like something that I had to do.”

Best decided to sell after a drunken driver plowed into the storefront last year.

Day arrives at Thistle with a long résumé as a world traveler and chef. Having traveled to over 20 countries, he spent the last few years of his career in San Francisco, most recently at Oro, a short-lived Mint Plaza restaurant. Other stints include cooking with Jason Fox at Commonwealth and working as a sous chef at Central Kitchen and Salumeria, Mission District restaurants where Day crafted charcuterie, paté and other meaty creations. Why focus on charcuterie after working as chef de cuisine, the No. 2 man in the kitchen?

“I remember the first professional kitchen I walked into, where the chef asked me what station I wanted to work,” Day says. “I told him I wanted to work the grill, thinking that I liked to barbecue and that those skills would come in handy on the grill station.”

As he started improving and after he fell in love with cooking meat and making sauces, charcuterie became a natural next step. “Once I became a sous chef,” Day says, “I started to experiment with charcuterie and preserving and fermenting, and that grew into a healthy obsession that followed me from restaurant to restaurant.”

Now Day gets to share his obsession on a daily basis.

“My goal for the menu is to highlight the meats that we offer in the case in interesting and delicious dishes,” he says. “For example, the green bean salad features our duck confit with goat cheese, Blue Lake beans dressed in whole grain mustard, nicoise olives and pea shoots. Often, charcuterie is rich and fatty, and I like to balance that with fresh, bright ingredients and lemony or acidic vinaigrettes.”

As the new owner, Day is dreaming up a mix of Thistle staples and new additions, such as Sunday supper events hosting chefs from the greater Bay Area
(a June event will feature a collaboration with San Francisco’s award-winning, vegetable-centric restaurant Lord Stanley); drinks courtesy of beverage director Jenny Schwarz, co-owner of Oakland’s Hopscotch and Sláinte; and sandwiches, salads and soups
from chef Kyle Itani, of Hopscotch and Itani Ramen, both located in Oakland.

“There’s no one I trust more to assist me in making this business beautiful and efficient,” says Day of bringing collaborators from the East Bay. “Kyle’s grandfather owned a butcher shop in Salinas, and I think it’s amazing that he is carrying on the family tradition. We even have his old scale in the shop.”

Thistle Meats, 160 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.772.5442.