Having started in the butchery with a weekend job, James Taylor has been proud to prove he can cut it on the international stage.
Danusia Osiowy finds out more.
Young butcher James Taylor has achieved a lot in a short time, and he is only just getting started.
The 21-year-old farmer’s son from Lincolnshire was recently named UK Young Butcher of the Year and represented Great Britain as part of the International Young Butcher competition in
Austria earlier this year.
Hailing from a small family farm at Rowston, Lincolnshire, James started his career with a part-time job in a local farm shop and working at local butcher’s Simpsons after leaving school.
“I had always wanted a job related to farming,” he says.
“But until I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My mum did her weekly shop there so I went into his shop one day to ask the question.”
He took on a full-time apprenticeship role in September 2012 and he recently completed his Level 3 advanced proficiency in meat and poultry skills.
Since completing his apprenticeship he is now responsible for the daily running of one of the business’ six shops, and it’s clear he’s working hard to raise the bar.
From carcase cutting to customer service and ordering stock, James is also introducing ideas inspired by his time on the competition circuit.
“Taking part in competitions doesn’t just help me professionally but it also complements the shop as I try to create ways of making us stand out to customers.”
Recognising consumer trends and spending habits, he has introduced ready-prepared products using different marinades, seasonings and cuts of meat to appeal to the busy shopper.
“This week I have made a minted lamb pin wheel which is minced lamb with mint seasoning and stuffed with mixed peppers and onion, all wrapped in pastry.
“The mini beef Wellingtons, where I take a small piece of fillet steak and cover it with Brussels pate and wrap it in pastry, also sell well. It’s an ideal meal for one. It’s quick and easy to cook and you can be sat eating a quality piece of meat in half an hour.”
For James, butchery isn’t just a skill but also a craft.
“I enjoy the creativity of the processes. You take a basic meat and offer additional flavours and presentation styles to take them away from just plain cuts of meat if customers want to try different products.
“It’s these kinds of innovations we can offer which the supermarkets can’t and it keeps our
customers coming back.”
With Christmas just days away, the butchery is fast-paced and busy, as customers hurry to place their final orders.
Working 13-hour days, seven days a week from December 1, it is inevitably the busiest time of the year for the team of four which work in a prime location inside a shopping centre.
“It’s long hours but we enjoy it. There’s a good atmosphere and it’s really nice to be able to supply a customer with quality meats which become part of their traditions and celebrations,” says James
When asked what meats were proving popular with customers this year, the answer is immediate.
“People are preferring turkey crowns over a whole bird. You can have whatever size you like to feed as few as two or as many as 16. There’s no waste. People don’t want to cut around the bone and you aren’t paying for the weight the bone brings too.”
It seems the trend isn’t just applicable this year but has been the case for the last five years. While the traditional form of bird may have shifted for his customers, so has the variety.
“We sell more duck, goose and cockerel than we ever have done. Ribs of beef do well too.”
All meat is sourced from abattoir A. Wright and Son, Boston. Deliveries are taken two to three times a week and the meat is hung in the shop to mature.
With a quiet confidence, James has developed a good relationship with customers, helping increase consumer loyalty.
“I really enjoy working with customers and the social side it can bring. You are going to give them the best product and you come to understand their likes and preferences so you can adapt to them.”
Versatility is definitely one of James’ strengths, and this is clear when he talks about competition requirements and criteria.
After making it to the final three of the Young Butcher of the Year, the judging panel visited James at work, observing and questioning him on his knowledge and skill.
“I am proud to have won as I have been a finalist for the last two years. I felt a sense of relief this year and it’s nice to be awarded for your trade.”
However, his ultimate moment was taking part in the International Young Butcher competition, where he represented the UK.
Preparing for the competition, he visited sites across the country, including Leeds City College and Meat Ipswich, and completed training organised by the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders.
“We would focus on one area at each visit and stay there a couple of days at a time. It was good to see and learn different ideas.
“It’s said England is a step behind in the world of butchery, so to go over there was a real eye-opener.
“They have different ways of cutting meat and look at products differently. They focus heavily on lean meat and would not sell anything with fat on whereas, for many English butchers, the fat is where the taste comes from. They don’t tend to sell joints but instead seam the meat out and make it into different products.”
After completing his training James attended the two-day international competition, where he went up against seven other young butchers to complete a host of tasks, including preparing ready-to-eat, barbecue and seam butchery against a tight deadline.
“I didn’t win, but taking part was a real confidence booster for me as I competed against other young butchers. It’s helped me as a butcher, and also to become more of a well-rounded individual.”
Looking forward, James plans to keep developing his skills and never give up on learning more. He credits his manager Gary Simpson for encouraging him to step out of his comfort zone and try new things.
“Gary’s been my mentor since day one and has taught me everything I know, from working in the business to entering competitions.
“Looking back at what I have achieved in the last few years makes me feel happy and proud. I’ve given myself the best possible start and I’m proud to be working for an award-winning butchery.
“The meat industry has so many opportunities for young people and I would encourage anyone to look into it.”
While the closed sign will be hung on the door at 5pm on Christmas Eve, James will be spending the big day with his family.
“We are having turkey and all the trimmings. I’ll be recovering from the last few weeks but I’m sure mum will rope me into carving the meat.”
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