Former Chicago Chef Turns Amish, Opens Charcuterie in Unity
By Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News
UNITY, Maine — Just a few years ago, Matthew Secich was the sous chef at the renowned Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago, where he made $600 tasting menus for the rich and famous and was fully immersed in the hectic restaurant life.
No more. Secich, 45, has given up glitzy establishments with Michelin stars for a simpler existence making and selling dried meats, bacon, smoked cheeses and other delicacies from a small shop named Charcuterie located off the beaten track in the small town of Unity.
“I hope that when you walk in here, you walk back about 100 years,” he said. “We make everything in-house. We hand-grind everything.”
That’s a shift even from his most recent venture, the Riverside Meat Market in Dexter, where he made his artisanal charcuterie with the help of modern-day technology.
Secich and his family became Amish a few months ago. They moved to Unity, which has a thriving Amish community, and forsook many aspects of the modern world, including electricity. Secich has traded in his five cars for three horses, bright lights for the softer glow of lanterns and his white chef coat for drab Amish clothes and an impressive beard.
And he couldn’t be happier about his new, old-fashioned life.
“This is far better. You can hear the clock tick,” he said from behind the counter of Charcuterie, where the peace is unbroken by the whir and clatter of machinery. “I truly believe God has his destiny for all things. From once upon a time being a four-star chef, to playing with meat in the backwoods, that was all God’s plan. I feel so blessed to be here.”
His customers are happy, too. Since he opened the shop in early December, many of his friends and fans from the Dexter area have found their way to his door.
Pat Pungitore, a part-time Sangerville resident, drove to Unity through the snowstorm Tuesday afternoon to pick up the duck prosciutto she had reserved, as well as a selection of other treats. She said that when she learned this summer that the Riverside Meat Market had closed, she was disappointed. But when Secich opened his new location, she made a trip before Christmas to buy a carload of cheeses for her family.
“I have followed him,” she said. “He does a good job. I like his smoked cheddar, and my husband likes the smoked Swiss and the provolone. I’ve always liked smoked cheese. And in other stores, it’s more processed.”
Secich, who was wrapping her purchases in white butcher paper and twine, piped up.
“There’s no processing here,” he said.
Inside the store, ropes of smoked sausages and cheeses dangled enticingly above the counter, and a woodstove worked valiantly to heat up the January day. Secich showed off his smoker, an electric model that he converted to gas, and his prized hand-cranked meat grinder from 1926. With it, he grinds about 400 pounds of meat a week. Then he combines the meat with various spices and stuffs it into natural animal casings.
Secich makes pepperoni, pastrami, sweet bologna, beef chorizo and more. He happily gives customers generous samples of his wares, and he has plans to expand into smoked seafood, too. His recipes are tucked into a small, spiral-bound notebook, but they do not include quantities. There’s a reason for that.
“I do it by smell,” he said. “You have different animals eating different things, and I really adjust the seasoning to the animal.”
His Amish neighbors helped him build his store and house, and they also are providing him with the pigs that he turns into charcuterie.
The Amish community in Unity and Thorndike has grown since the first families arrived in 2007, and it numbered between 15 and 20 families last summer. In July 2015, Caleb Stoll, who co-owns the Community Market & Country General Store, located next to Charcuterie, said that several families who were not originally Amish had joined the group.
Becoming Amish is more than just donning long dresses or eschewing electricity. The group traces its lineage to the original Anabaptist settlers who came to America from Switzerland, France and Germany in the 18th centuries, seeking tolerance for their religious beliefs. They are a Christian people who believe and practice the precepts of the Bible, and they are strongly family-oriented, with the fathers acting as the heads of the households. Amish communities aim to be self-sufficient and sustainable, and they are very selective about what changes and modernities they allow into their world.
Secich doesn’t seem to miss anything from his previous life.
“At Charlie Trotter’s, with the $600 tasting menu, how many people can you share your passion with? Here, by the grace of God, everybody can be a part of it. My children can work with me. My son is 10 years old and runs the cash machine. My daughters sweep the floor,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade where we’re at. I’m sure I drank more than I should have. I live a much cleaner life than ever before.”
But the simplicity doesn’t mean he can’t have a good time.
“It is fun, though, here,” Secich said. “I’m not doing it for the money. I want to share what we do. It’s not the food that you sell — it’s the friendships you make. … I’m so blessed to forsake the world and my trade, and yet people are still willing to travel here. I just can’t even believe it.”
Charcuterie, located on Route 220 in Unity, is open from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
This story appears through a media partnership with the Bangor Daily News.