Great British Chefs guest blogger Food Urchin aka Danny Kingston travelled to deepest Bermondsey to have a chat with Nathan Mills, an Australian butcher who has lived and worked in the UK for the last 6 years. Nathan has been running his butchery aptly named ‘The Butchery Ltd’ from underneath the railway arches since January and is doing things just a little bit differently to your normal High Street butcher. Here’s what Danny found out:
Interview and photography by Food Urchin aka Danny Kingston
Hi Nathan, thanks for agreeing to meet up and coming out to find me. I must admit, I was starting to get scared standing in that tunnel there.
That’s alright, we are a bit off the beaten track.
Right, so why did you become a butcher?
Family, really. Back home in Oz, the whole family have at some point been involved in the meat trade. When I was a small child my mother owned the canteen at the local slaughter house which was run with the help of my sister, dad worked grading beef, my two brothers worked on the slaughter floor and one in the boning room. I spent most of my school holidays walking around all of the different parts of the slaughter house intrigued with what was going on. My parents then opened their own butcher shop when I was about 14 so I started working there after school making mince, sausages and washing up.
OK and how does butchery differ from Australia to UK then?
The trade is not respected as much as in the UK. To stereotype, the person that becomes a butcher in Australia is most likely to assume that they are not very bright but can lift heavy things. In the UK, a butcher is looked upon as a person of skill both with a knife and the frying pan. Though Twitter tells me change is afoot in Australia. The actual meat and animals are very different too; the rare and native breeds that I get to work with here in the UK are very rarely seen in Australia.
Do you have any good stories (or mistakes) you can talk about when picking up the trade on the way?
A good story that all was comes to mind is the time that I was learning to bone meat in a mass production factory (abattoir). The whole process was very hard as you had to be fast enough to bone a hind 1/4 of beef in 4 minutes, as I was learning the new skill there was a group of 8 boners (technical name for people taking meat of the bone, no pun intended) would be standing on a platform singing Sophie Ellis Bextor’s ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ as we worked.
So what is the deal with The Butchery Ltd?
It’s a simple idea, we buy whole animal carcasses and butcher to sell nose- to-tail, which is the traditional way of doing things but not many places are doing that these days. And the beef, pork, lamb that we buy will be free range, chemical free, pasture fed and sourced from small farms or through the Traditional Breeds Meat Market. Our aim is to always source traditional native breeds and if rare breeds are available, then even better.
What is the point of buying whole animal carcasses then?
Well, really, there’s no room for confusion when you buy an animal whole because all the information is there. I can categorically say where my animals come from and where and when it was killed ie from small farms and local abattoirs. You don’t really get that sort of transparency at the supermarket where joints and cuts of meat can be sourced from a multitude of places. And because I buy through the traditional breeds market or rare breeds trust, I get total traceability. I even get information on the parents.
And what about your butchery classes, how are they going?
Really good, we’ve only done a few so far but people are definitely up for them. I think the fact that they are proper ‘hands-on’ helps, not many people get the opportunity to work on a whole side of beef.
I must admit, I rather like the sound of Bashing the Beef. Sounds kinky.
You are a sick puppy Danny.
Ahem… butchery seems to be going through a renaissance at the moment, are there any contemporaries out there who are doing something different like yourself?
I’m inspired by a couple of butchers in the States that have taken whole carcass butchery to the next level and injecting some fun such as Fleisher’s and 4505 Meats. In the UK, I would have to say that The Ginger Pig has done a lot for butchery over the last 5 years. And it’s not just about their approach to meat, although they do a fine job of championing rare breeds. But it’s also about the people they employ. They give a lot of younger people the opportunity to gain specialist skills that will take them around the world. And they have taken the idea of engagement to another level.
Maybe I’ve had a couple of bad experiences but butchers used to scare the hell of me, not so much these days, do you think butchers are becoming more approachable?
We have to be, maybe that level of service went missing for a while but it’s definitely coming back. And I would say that the job description of a 21st century butcher has definitely changed because a lot more is expected from you these days. To start, cooking has to be a passion if you’re a butcher because more and more customers are starting to ask a lot more about where their meat is coming from, what to do with it and how to cook a particular cut. So the need to know your food, whether it’s a carrot or a cow, is very important. Saying that, I am learning all the time too.
Have you had any unusual requests from your customers?
Penis is the only one that comes to mind that is very unusual, I am still trying to work out how you would cook that one.
I blame I’m A Celebrity, so how often do you eat meat then?
Depends on my mood and what I have in stock. I could consume meat 2 times a day for a week or only a couple of meals in a week. In game season it always seems to be on the higher side
What is your favourite animal to work on and what are your favourite cuts?
Beef, as it allows you to get in and separate so many different muscles due to its size. It’s been great fun lately doing a blog on the cheeky butcher’s cuts such as the Pope’s Eye and Goose Necks. I have done 5 cuts so far with a couple more up my sleeve. All of these cuts are the cheaper cuts that most other butchers would mince but cooked the right way are as good as the more expensive cuts.
OK. Last question, what would be your last meal?
Oxtail that was slow cooked for hours in red wine served on mash potato. I need something sticky that will last on the tongue too see me to through to meat heaven……….that exists, right?
I hope it does Nathan, I hope it does.
Where’s your favourite local butcher? What cuts of meat do you mostly tend to buy? We’ll be discussing this over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page