I first met Nath about a year ago now when he was at Barbecoa and quite by chance I’ve been using his services where ever he moved since then. When I found out he was opening up shop on his own I donned my special geek t-shirt and went to have a chat:
Can you tell us what made first pick up the butchers cleaver?
In short the family! I’ve been working in the meat industry since I was a boy but to be honest moving to the UK reignited my passion for Butchery. I’d been thinking about becoming a "sparky" for a while but the food scene here when we arrived 6.5 years ago and the fact that Butchery is a lot more respected as trade than it is in Australia kept me going.
Can you give me some highlights, work wise so far?
I’ve learnt a lot from the people I’ve worked with; Jason from Butcher and Edmonds taught me new cuts and techniques, cheeky little tips on doing the same thing but a better way. The recently passed and already very missed Paul Greatorex; who I worked with at The Ginger Pig, drank with many a time and then employed as part of my start up team at Barbecoa Butchery.
He taught me a lot more about breeds, the insider history to London’s Butcher shops and more fantastic techniques. Then there was a short but fantastic time with Dario Cecchinni. There are a lot of different ways to cut up a cow, pig or sheep.
What made you want to start your own shop and go it alone on Maltby Street?
I guess I’ve always wanted my own shop and as I’ve been involved setting up of three shops for other people as well I thought it was about time to do it for myself. Working in the UK meat industry I have never felt that the customer gets the whole truth about were there meat is coming from.
The only way I buy meat is in whole carcasses for beef lamb and pork. Lamb and pork are simple to get full carcass utilisation on but beef is very hard and some weeks I won’t have fillet or rib eye in the window.
Why only buy whole carcasses?
This way is I know exactly where that animal has come from and allows me to use smaller farmers that look after smaller herds with more care. The lady who I get my Llanwenog lambs from has a small herd of only 30 breeding ewes.
Compare this with a larger farm whole may be looking after 3000 attention to detail can get a little lost. Working with these types of farmers I know that I'm paying to keep small farms running; I pay them directly and they get the best possible money for their animals.
Why should we buy meat from you rather than the supermarket?
Maltby Street has the best educated food crowd in London these people are looking to get the best meat, fruit, veg, coffee and cheese they can get their hands on. I’ve not taken advantage of this and my prices are lower than Sainsbury's taste the difference; or so my friend who costs recipes for Jamie Oliver’s magazine tells me as I don't eat Sainsburys meat myself.
I’m struggling a little at the moment though as to how to exactly pitch myself as the meat isn't organic; but it is generally free range, pasture fed, and rare breed. It’s environmentally and ethically friendly, though none of it is from my own farm, I speak to the actual farmers and two of them even deliver to me personally.
Currently in the UK Free range is bandied about a fair bit but the legal definition is that the animals only have to have access; it doesn’t mean they actually really make it out of the shed! Sometimes cross breeding or the fact they are given growth hormones etc means their bones/muscles are too weak to support themselves.
Basically you want to steer clear of shit meat then!
Food labels can bamboozle customers! Loads of it is just bullshit and marketing and there are different meanings for each animal. I am not that great at putting it into words, but I’ve been to a lot of abattoirs in the UK as well as at home and also a lot of farms and personally if the animal has been outside (this usually means rare breeds in the UK) most of its life, bred from good stock, not pumped full of crap, then killed quickly and cleanly a short distance from its farm the meat will be better for you, the environment and your conscience.
I get that you want to use good stock, what does that mean to the customer though?
Good meat does not have to cost an arm and a leg, it does though take a little more care and attention and a little less profit for me the middleman and the farmer. However if I can educate people about all the cuts that are available I can make this work and my customers can try something a little different to the normal, probably going to be a slow process but I’m working on it on the website and in the shop at the moment.
As a butcher it is a skill and a challenge but also respectful to the animal that has died. There is a really big gap between most farm produced meat and the types of animals I am using. I don’t believe we need to stop eating meat, I believe we need to eat less but better meat and eat every last bit of the animal. In the UK and a lot of the rest of the world it isn’t just offal that people screw their nose up at!
I’m all for nose to tail eating so I’m sold already. This is just your temporary home though, what are your plans when you move to your new premises?
When the new arch is functioning and I am trading from there we will be starting a more concentrated campaign. I’m looking at ways to encourage people to eat a whole cow, whole pig, and whole lamb.
Not physically eat the weight in one sitting or anything like that but we will have lists and pictures so people can see the different cuts and tick off what they have tried and investigate eating their way through a whole animal that way. We won’t be preaching or forcing things down their throats unless they want more info though.
My butchery classes are going to focus more about the whole animal as well compared to all the usual suspects in London. For those that just want a great tasting piece of meat as well we aim to have that there for them too.
What would say is your favourite animal/cut to work with and what do you like to eat as well?
A body of beef is my favourite to butcher. The muscles are so well defined that you can butcher out tiny little muscle that are hard to see on lamb and pork. This also creates its own challenges one slip of the knife can see me cutting straight through one of these muscle and sending them to mince trim.
Pig is great to work with though, pork, bacon, ham, salami, sausages and scratchings! You get the picture; pork remains supreme when it comes to versatility. Best to eat though is long slow cooks, something from an over worked muscle like shin of beef or oxtail.
I’ll leave you alone now, thank you for your time!
You can currently find Nath down on Maltby Street alongside the Kernel Brewery and the Ham & Cheese company or on-line here.