Jason Nauert fell in love with butchering the moment he started classes at the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, a program offered through the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts in Denver. In fact, he loved it so much, he ended up buying the rights so he could be in charge of the program.
But landing as a professional butcher, chef and instructor didn't happen overnight. Nauert's culinary adventure is one of many that have defined his life.
"From the time I could hold a BB gun or shoot a bow and arrow, my dad started us (he and his brother) hunting," he said. "We moved to a ranch outside of Woodland Park when I was 6, and we all loved outdoorsy stuff. He taught us the basics of butchering and how to field dress animals."
He considers himself the adventurer of the family.
"I'm ready to go where the wind takes me," he said.
After graduating from Woodland Park High School in 1992, he picked up jobs in construction until deciding to enter the police academy to pursue a career in law enforcement. He was a deputy sheriff in Teller County until 2001, when the metaphorical wind blew and took him to Kosovo.
"I went there as a contract security officer," he said. "The money was great. But I busted my heel bone and had to come home to Colorado. I was on crutches a long time."
During this time, he became a master gardener through the Colorado State University Extension Service, which led to him becoming a landscaper.
"I was working on the yard of Della Bassart," he said. "Her husband, Roger, had retired from the Air Force, so he was around the house, too. Della told me he wanted to learn to hunt."
Nauert took Roger Bassart hunting. One thing led to another, and the Bassarts soon became close friends with Nauert and his wife, Jess.
"I've always loved cooking," Nauert said, "so Roger asked me to cook the meat we harvested from our hunting trips. He's the one who encouraged me to look into culinary schools. We were literally sitting on the back porch Googling culinary schools when we found Cook Street. But what really got my eye was (its) butchery program."
In 2012, Nauert started classes at the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, and a new passion was born.
"The minute I met Mark DeNittis, the director of the butchery program, and saw what he was doing, I knew that was what I wanted to do," Nauert said.
He hasn't looked back. In a relatively short time, the 44-year-old has carved out an impressive career. He's the director of RMIM and co-founder of Primal Meat Co. In 2014, he developed the only American Culinary Federation Accredited Practical Field Butcher course for the U.S. Army Special Forces. He's traveled to several Army bases to instruct soldiers about hunting and field dressing meat. He has trained military Special Forces - elite solders whose missions take them to the most remote parts of the world - on how to identify and buy healthy animals, properly butcher them, and cook and eat as much of the animals as possible.
"The Army was seeing a problem around the globe: soldiers falling ill after consuming meat they'd purchased locally, which is often prepped or stored differently than in America," he said. "That led to me writing the guidebook and accreditation program."
With his culinary background, he has taught cooking classes to the military as well as civilians.
Dave Merlina, a personal chef in Steamboat Springs, benefited from Nauert's training.
"We worked together for a few days, butchering and making different pork products," Merlina said. "He was patient and very comfortable with not only his knowledge, but how to impart it on me. He was helpful without being condescending, which I believe can be difficult when dealing someone your own age, yet alone in the profession. He is very good at what he does and there is a niche for him in the culinary world. But for me, it's his personality that will make him a star."
Next up, Nauert plans to open a retail store with a butcher shop.
"In 2018, I'm going to start a farming course for veterans and their families," he said. "I want to teach them how to grow and raise animals, but also how to run a farm as a business."
Who knows which way the wind will blow next for Nauert, but one thing is for sure: It will be adventurous and involve butchering. Can a TV series be out of the question?
"There have been talks," he confided.