Emily Ansell Elfer has a chat with co-owner of Ye Olde Sausage Shop and World Butchers’ Challenge Team GB butcher, Jessica Leliuga.
Q. How and when did you decide to become a butcher?
A. I didn’t necessarily decide I wanted to be a butcher, but I kind of fell into it aged 12, I was looking for a weekend job and my cousin had just opened his new shop, so he offered me a job cleaning up. The thought of touching meat mortified me at first but I soon got past that and realised that I actually really loved it. When it came to leaving school, I was still enjoying working there and learning new things all the time so I decided to go full time and make a career out of it, 13 years later and I’ve never looked back!
Q. Talk us through your career journey so far?
A. I started aged 12, went full time aged 16 and bought shares in the business around the age of 21. I’d fallen in love with the job and being offered and trusted to have shares in the business was the icing on the cake, working for yourself brings a whole new aspect to work because it has a personal benefit too, if the business succeeds it’s reflected on something you’ve done well, but similarly it’s difficult at times to continue to strive and improve things to keep the business going.
I then applied for the Team GB World Butchers’ Challenge Butchery Team in 2017 and after a series of trials and heats, I found out I’d made the team and competed in Belfast in 2018 against 11 other countries around the world. The management and Team Captain made the decision to keep the same team so I was asked to stay on the team to represent Great Britain in Butchery in 2020 which is in California! Our business is still going from strength to strength, we have a fantastic following on social media and I’m lucky enough to have a job that I actually enjoy!
Q. What do you enjoy most about being a butcher?
A. The value added, creative displays are definitely my forté, it’s where I feel most comfortable and I also feel excited during the production of a display because I look forward to the finished result. I love all the small, intricate and delicate finishing touches that really transforms a product.
Q. And what do you find the most challenging?
A. I’m at a stage now where I feel quite comfortable in most aspects of my job, but I probably feel a bit of pressure sometimes to continue to introduce new products, keeping people interested and thinking of new ideas all of the time.
Q. You are the only woman in Team GB! Congratulations and what can you tell us about the World Butchers’ Challenge competition?
A. Thank you! The WBC was a fantastic experience and I’ve learnt so much from both working with the other 5 on the team but also competing against other countries and being able to see how they do it around the world. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong in butchery, and it’s amazing how everyone can do the same job different ways depending on how they’ve been taught or what sells best in their shop/country. The WBC is growing more each year and to be able to compete over in California next year is absolutely mind blowing.
Q. Why did you put yourself forward for Team GB?
A. My best friend was really pestering me for ages about it, I’m not the most confident person and self-doubt is a real big issue with me so I really didn’t think I stood a chance, so if it wasn’t for the constant nagging from my friend, I never would have considered it.
Q. What’s the best thing about representing your country on an international level?
A. Being able to showcase our work and skills to other countries, and in turn see theirs too. The World Butchers’ Challenge has turned into a really big community now so I’ve also met lots of new people and made friends around the world; which is fantastic.
Q. Tell us a bit about your business Ye Olde Sausage Shop and what makes it stand out?
A. We’re not necessarily a traditional butchers, we do traditional cuts of course but we have always specialised in sausages, however, now we’ve really taken to the value added and the innovation so our counter displays are probably what makes us a little different to others.
Q. We understand you’re well known for your window and counter displays. Tell us about these!
A. I’ve always really enjoying playing around with ideas and trying to introduce new products, I’m also quite well known for incorporating flowers and quite a ‘feminine’ display so I think that’s quite a talking point. I love the buzz of creating a display and the feeling afterwards of standing back and seeing how it’s come together, then being able to tweak things and add garnish and finishing touches to transform it as a whole.
Q. Why do you think there are more male than female butchers and how can more women be encouraged into the industry?
A. Butchery is a male dominated industry, there’s probably always going to be more male butchers. When I started out, I didn’t know any other female butchers and to some people it was quite a strange profession to want to be in, but there was a niche in the market for the female touch and now I know lots of female butchers, it’s really good to see so many girls wanting to get involved! I think word of mouth and social media is the best way to encourage people, both women and men to join the trade.
Q. What advice would you give to a young butcher just starting out?
A. Don’t be afraid of asking questions, and learn by doing but also by watching. When I was younger, my boss at the time – who’s now practically my second dad – always said if you’re struggling for something to do, just watch what other people are doing, watch what I’m doing. It’s true; it’s amazing what you can learn by standing back and watching.
If you have an idea, 80% of the time it’ll work out, and if it doesn’t you’ll more than likely figure out why it didn’t work or what to do to improve it. There’s no end to learning in this trade and with it being such a hands on practical job, the opportunities are endless.
Q. What are your career hopes for the future?
A. I’m just taking each step as it comes, the hope is to continue to grow and build our business, which is obviously my primary focus, but to also continue to compete and learn more about the trade outside of work too.