Round Two: Why Raul Gracia Turned From Boxing to Butchery

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Today, Raul Gracia can be found behind the counter at Von Hanson’s // Photo by Aaron Davidson

He knew if he continued fighting, he’d be the visiting palooka—taking in paydays from Lincoln to Indianapolis, fighting younger, faster up-and-comers. He’d never be favorably matched, certainly not in a way that could lead to title fights. He also considered the physical and mental toll he’d endure. He knew many former fighters whose punch-drunkenness led to drug abuse, alcoholism, and worse. His purses would go straight to medical bills, if he were lucky.

“If I would have turned pro at a younger age, it would have been a lot different,” Raul reflects. “I knew that I had the talent and the drive, but I didn’t have the right people. I think Minnesota is full of talent. However, we don’t have a strong guide who can get us to title shots.”

Instead of continuing with boxing, Raul channeled his energy into other things. He pursued acting and voiceover work. He trimmed trees for Xcel Energy. He got his real estate license. Finally, he rediscovered his love of food.

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Photo by Aaron Davidson

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Photo by Aaron Davidson

Raul was born into a lower-middle class community in Puerto Rico before emigrating at the age of 12. Many of his childhood memories of the island involve food—from eating roasted chickens on family trips to hustling doughnuts on the street corner to make extra cash. Curious to learn more about the cuisine from his native country, Raul attended Le Cordon Bleu, and completed an externship in Puerto Rico.

“There’s always a party in Puerto Rico. If you go to somebody’s house, they’ll feed you until you die,” he laughs. “I loved tostones, and obviously the pork, lechon asado. I do that every once in a while.” After returning to Minnesota, Raul worked in a few kitchens, before winding up on the line at Café Lurcat.

“I hear it’s one of the toughest kitchens to work in,” he says. “[Isaac] Becker was the executive chef. The shift started at 1pm; I’d get there at 11am and start prepping off the clock just to get ahead. It was hard. When I got my review, I remember telling Chef, ‘I come in here, every day I hated it, and it’s been the best year of my life.’”

From Becker, Raul learned how to channel his passion and sense of urgency into food, but with precision and detail orientation. That’s how butchering caught his attention. Raul is drawn to the craft of charcuterie, trying to articulate what a good cook wants from a cut of meat. These days, he can be found trimming steaks and making sausages for Von Hanson’s Meats.

“It’s easier on the family,” Raul says. “I work weekends, but not ‘restaurant weekends.’ And chefs don’t have the time to interact with customers. I have that chance here.” With his energy and history of showmanship, it should be no surprise that he’s hoping to teach cooking classes in the near future. “I don’t have a problem talking to people,” he laughs. “I’m going to be a butcher for a long time, but [teaching] is a new aspect. I’m always looking for a new challenge.”

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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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