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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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PeopleRay Smith

Ray Smith

My life as a butcher started on a bicycle with a big basket on the front, cycling around Golders Green and Swiss Cottage as a delivery boy for a kosher butcher. There were lots of independent butchers at that time and in that particular area many were kosher. Kosher butchery is a totally different way of cutting meat, very similar to the continental way and it teaches you well – anatomically.

It wasn’t long after the war and all cuts of meat were used, nothing at all was wasted. My mum, a traditional cook, served up neck of lamb stew every Saturday after preparing it on Friday and cutting all the fat off. I used to help in the kitchen even then.

I went on to work at a Kosher grocers, all strictly regulated by the local rabbi!
I left butchery for a while after finishing school lured by more money but always kept my interest in food and cooking.

I married Mary in 1966, we bought a house with a GLC 100% loan, a maisonette in Stanmore for £3,500! We had kids and moved to Harrow and in 1972 decided that the rise in house prices was our ticket out of London.  We put a pin in the map and travelled out of London at the weekends to see potential properties! We settled on Dorchester and found a shop with a flat above. I sat outside the shop for a whole day to look at the custom. It was a risk and a challenge and we wanted to build the business. Our first week we took £50! We used to roll out of bed at 4am and down to the shop and we built the business tremendously.  We carried on until 1984 and then decided to sell when planning permission was approved for Waitrose. There were 13 butchers and 2 abattoirs in Dorchester at that time and there is only one butcher in the whole town now – that’s telling.

We shut the shop, Mary retrained as a medical secretary and I worked in the garden growing vegetables and kept some animals. I used to butcher for farming friends before all the regulations came in and it was at one of these farms that I met Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  We hit it off, both having the same philosophy about food, and a passion for cooking.

I now work at River Cottage HQ with Hugh I have come full circle really. For me it is paradise; I am not butchering for profit, people are keen and learning. We are using whole animals, not just the usual cuts and it’s great to share that knowledge.

One evening recently at about 11pm, after a whole day teaching, sore throat and shattered, three ladies cornered me and wanted me to show them again how to pluck a pheasant so they could do it at home. That to me is really rewarding, that’s what makes my job worthwhile.

Being in Dorset is great for me, my job is unique and every day is like a holiday.

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