1. So John – tell us a bit about your career so far.
It’s quite a job to sum up a few decades years in a couple of sentences, but I’ll try! I’ve been in the industry for 42 years now – I first started in a small independent butcher’s in Stalybridge, and after some years there I moved on to Morrisons and Asda, serving in management roles to help train new generations of butchers, and develop each business.
To date my experience covers everything to do with processing lines to artisan butchery. I’ve worked in meat management and consultancy positions all over the North West of England. I even did a short stint in Warsaw, Poland, where I helped independent butchers to develop their business by implementing British standards in butchery. I wasn’t sure about staying in Poland long-term though, so I returned to the UK and I’ve been enjoying working at Cutting Edge Services ever since.
2. What exactly do you do at Cutting Edge Services?
I’m an Edge Specialist. We supply somewhere in the region of 30,000 knives per week to our clients, many of whom are large national businesses. My job involves visiting their premises – often quite big factories – and coaching their operatives on how to maintain the edge of each of their knives. That goes a long way to helping productivity and profitability, but it’s also about safety and morale too. It can be frustrating working all day with a blunt knife, and it can be pretty dangerous – a blunt knife forces you to use more force to successfully make the cut, and when you’re using more force, that’s when accidents are more likely to happen.
If necessary, I can also advise on the right knives and equipment to use for specific meat products, so that our customers can be sure they’re using the right tools for the job in question.
3. What is a Master Butcher?
Put simply, Master Butchers are at the top of their game. Not just anyone can call themselves a Master Butcher, you see. To earn the right to use the term, you’ve got to be able to demonstrate a broad range of skills across every aspect of butchery. Now, there are 14 elements in total, so I won’t go through every one of them in detail with you because we’d be here forever, but they’re basically split up into four main pillars.
- Butchery – this section covers every part of a food animal’s journey from farm gate to dinner plate. This includes the diligent process of selecting the animal, storing and ensuring responsible stewardship, a humane slaughtering procedure, the manufacturing of quality meat products for sale, and ultimately the best way to present the meat so that it looks attractive to the customer. And those are just the broad strokes!
- Business – this section covers the business side of running a butcher’s shop. That includes management, coaching new staff, pricing, accountancy and business development.
- Food hygiene and safety – this one is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, they need you to show them that not only do you know the journey an animal takes from farm to fork, but you also know the details of all the appropriate regulations, and how to ensure that the product is ultimately safe to eat.
- Integrity and attitude – this requires you to demonstrate the appropriate level of industry knowledge, degree of integrity and attitude towards the butcher trade to merit the designation of Master Butcher.
Butchery is an ancient art, but it never loses sight of the need to evolve the process. A good example would be the whole concept of dry-aging beef. In more recent years butchers have adapted the traditional methods of simply hanging beef in refrigerators, to now using modern-day dry aging units in controlled environments to stimulate flavour transformation. Exposing the meat to air extracts moisture, helping natural enzymes break down the muscles slowly and making the meat more tender. This is just one of many new ways of working which have improved the finished product on the plate.
4. How does it feel to be a Master Butcher?
I was hugely proud at the ceremony itself, as you’d probably expect! It feels very humbling to get this level of official recognition for my skills and expertise. But it’s not like it will become the first thing I mention when I walk into a room. It’s not supposed to make you too self-satisfied. Being a Master Butcher isn’t about lording it over people – it’s about having knowledge, and how you share that knowledge and integrity with others.
In fact I guess that’s the most the important thing for me – it gives me even more opportunities to share my skills and pass them on to new generations of butchers. That’s always been the best part of my job, and something I’ve always wanted to do. I think it’s important for Cutting Edge Services as an organisation too – it shows our customers that our expertise really is second to none, so they can always have complete faith in the quality of our services.
With all that said though, I did enjoy meeting Princess Anne!
5. Yes, that’s a point – what’s Princess Anne like in person?
Oh, she’s absolutely lovely. She came straight over to shake my hand, and we discussed my career in quite a bit of detail actually. She’s very down to earth, and lots of other people had a very easy time talking to her as well. Not hard to see why she’s so many people’s favourite royal!
6. What are you most proud of about working at Cutting Edge Services?
Above everything else, we’re innovative. We’re always seeking different ways of doing things better. I think that’s why we’ve been going so long, and we’ll continue to go on for many years into the future – we’re focused on moving with the times. We’re always assessing what our customers are doing, what they need, and what they expect from us – and adapt our output accordingly. It’s a big part of why we’re recognised as leaders in our field.
Cutting Edge Services also really values ambition and pride in your work, so there’s always development opportunities to take advantage of. Nobody is too old to develop – there’s always new stuff to do, new stuff to learn. It’s one of the main things that makes me so proud to work here! Plus, they sponsored me throughout my Master Butcher application, so I’m immensely proud and grateful for their encouragement and support.
John plays an integral role in our outstanding in-house butchery team here at Cutting Edge Services, and we’ve recently been celebrating them as part of National Butcher’s Week! We’ve now got more than 30 years (and counting) of experience to our name (along with over 200 combined years of butchery knowledge), and we’re laser-focused on providing cutting-edge services that give our customers ‘the edge’.
You can shop our knives and steels here, or find out more about our knife sharpening service. If you’ve got any questions or need any advice, feel free to give us a call on 01772 956 270, and we’ll be happy to see how we can help!