The Butcher’s Apprentice; I just can’t help thinking it would make a great name for a heavy rock band or perhaps a race horse. It’s on my mind at present because apprentice positions have just opened up here at James Whelan Butchers and with the Leaving Certificate results hot off the presses, new careers are a popular topic. The question, of course, is how rock and roll is butchering these days and is it a valid life choice?
Obviously I’m quite biased as food is not only my life but is in my blood. I am a fifth generation butcher and the ancestral ‘passion for food’ gene has exponentially gained in strength down through the years. Today James Whelan Butchers offers not just an on the job training for future butchers, but an accredited International qualification which takes two years to complete (FETAC Level 5) and is recognised internationally. There is an expertly devised schedule of learning, theory modules and exams to complete alongside the practical work experience.
Becoming a butcher of quality definitely requires hard work and good upper body strength, but it also requires a certain X Factor; a passion for food and people. A few months ago I gave a talk at a careers’ night in a secondary school and I was asked “What are the qualities of a good butcher?” I was really impressed with the young person who asked the question as you could see they were thinking of butchering as a lifetime career rather than just a job. They were choosing to line up the required qualities with their own strengths; a great place to start with any choice.
Becoming a butcher is about a traditional craft and skill. It is the foundation for a lifetime working with food and the rewards and career paths are tremendous. Food is universal and so the skills of an excellent butcher are always sought after. While it may not be as recession proof as undertaking, I’d say it’s definitely up there. However being recession proof is not the right reason to choose it as a career.
In the rough and tumble world of butchering the days can be incredibly diverse. For anyone interested I would advise them to check out the JWB website where there are some pictures taken from a day in my own working life. There is the bloody and extreme work of the abattoir that requires guts and brawn to the finer points of the craft where beautiful cuts of meat are creatively prepared for sale. There is the noble and scientific learning of every muscle group and ligament in an animal’s body and how its nurture and nature contribute to the resulting food. There are the different anatomies of the various animals and the surprising similarities each and how we use them as food. There is the butcher’s golden knowledge to learn; the ability to use everything from nose to tail as nourishment and food and present it as such to the customer. It is seldom recognised loudly but butchering is a creative art form and for someone who loves food, enjoys a physical job that also provides the opportunity for creativity, married to a desire to work with people then it could be the perfect career choice.
For me personally I am first and foremost a butcher and that is how I earn a living, but it has opened so many other doors for fun and creative expression that it is sometimes hard to believe. Without my core skills of butchery for example I wouldn’t be writing this column nor would I have written a book. I wouldn’t be constantly creating recipes, dreaming up new ways of presentation or bringing new types of meat to the table such as my recent successful experiment with Waygu beef. I certainly wouldn’t be asked to give talks about and around food; food retailing or food and social media and I wouldn’t have met so many people and been involved in so many exciting projects. The narrow view is that it is just about meat for sale; the real view is that it opens the door to a field full of diversity and opportunity.
Looking back at my own school days and receiving my leaving cert results I feel so privileged to say that I definitely made the right choice in becoming a butcher. While it was the family business, I wasn’t forced or coerced as proven by my siblings who chose different paths. I wanted it because I always loved it and every aspect of it from the raising of the animals to the over the counter banter with the customers. It is my life and I juice it every day with great pleasure. I’m delighted to say that even with the usual modern pressures of business I rarely see it as work.
If you or someone you know is interested in exploring the idea of becoming a butcher then check out the James Whelan Butchers website where you will find full details of the course, the qualifications and the accreditation. I welcome your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers