Major: Culinary Arts
Job Title: CEO, Butcher & Baker
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Home on the Range…and in the Kitchen
Growing up on a wild game ranch with a thriving vegetable garden, Corey Fair knew all about sustainability before the term became a media catch phrase. “We raised game and hunted every day,” says Corey. “We didn’t have a lot, so the garden provided vegetable and herbs. The first thing I ever made was zucchini bread when I was eight years old. I entered the loaf in the local fair and won first prize, a whopping $75. That’s a pretty big deal for a third grader. Right then and there I decided I wanted to be a chef.”
Corey’s culinary journey is reminiscent of the French apprentice system. He started as a busboy at the age of 13, then graduated to dishwasher. He eventually worked his way up the traditional ranks of garde manger, sauté chef, grill chef, sous chef, and finally executive chef. “I was a good cook but I thirsted for more. I felt something was missing in my education so, at the age of 28, I sold everything I owned and applied to The Culinary Institute of America.”
A bold move indeed, but ultimately the right one for Corey, who today is CEO and founder of online provision store Butcher & Baker. He says the time spent at the CIA was a significant step in his growth as a chef and businessman. “You’re surrounded by world-class chef-instructors. You’re absorbing the technical aspects of various cooking methods, learning the importance of organization and attention to detail, and gaining a sense of professionalism and pride. Plus you develop lifelong friendships and connections. You never know when you’ll come in contact with someone who attended the school. If you’re a CIA alumnus, you have a network that’s untouchable.”
Following graduation, Corey came in contact with numerous CIA colleagues as he made a conscious decision to seek positions in both the back and front of the house. “I think it’s important to know both areas in order to run a successful business,” Corey says. “I wanted to hone my craft in the kitchen but also be exposed to the financial and management side.” His career track would take him across the country to California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and finally Philadelphia, PA, and include positions such as executive chef, general manager, director of food and beverage, and director of operations.
In 2006, while still immersed in the culinary field, Corey began to dream of creating a meaningful, lasting American company that would compete in the world market, while supporting artisans and manufacturing in the United States. “I saw a gaping hole in the market for a lifestyle brand that suited the modern foodie as well as the professional chef and felt there was a demand for products that centered around the culinary lifestyle,” says Corey. Thus Butcher & Baker was born.
Teaming up with graphic designer James Porter, Corey initially developed an urban-edgy line of casual yet comfortable, durable, and stylish clothing. Dedicated to a philosophy of sourcing sustainable, organic, and fair trade products, he expanded the line to include kitchen tools, knives, silverware, cutting boards, gourmet peppers, salts, spices, soaps, and lotions.
“We have developed relationships with small operations, ones that we felt embraced our same philosophy, that have the ability to scale up as we go. We want to make sure our partners have a real opportunity for growth over a sustained period of time,” Corey says. These include spice wizard Lior Lev Sercarz, who develops custom spice blends, and Mark Bitterman, James Beard Award winner and author of Salt: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, who assists with the salt collection. “We intend to honor the tradition of American manufacturing by bringing artisan products to the marketplace, thereby helping the small producer and the local economy.”
To generate much-needed funds and promote the business to fans and supporters, Corey used an innovative method to get the word out: online fundraising through Indiegogo.com. The website allows you to explain your brand and philosophy, set financial goals, and interact with customers.
Despite focusing all his attention on Butcher & Baker, Corey still gets into the kitchen whenever he can, especially to donate his time and talents to charities like Living Hope Farm, Bridge to Hope, The Food Trust, and the Overbrook School for the Blind. Last September he was invited back to his alma mater to talk about a subject close to his heart. “I was asked to take part in the first CIA Sustainability Conference by Chef-Instructor Anita Eisenhauer. That was such an honor!”
For Corey, working with organic, eco-friendly products and supporting local farmers, artisans, and purveyors harkens back to his youth on the family ranch in Texas. “My dad was an artist and wood carver. With Butcher & Baker, I honor my heritage and feel connected to his legacy.”