WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – JESSICA KELLY, APPRENTICE BUTCHER
I could go on an on about the stories I’ve heard about Jessica Kelly, you see, I’m friends with her mam. Sarah Kelly may well be known to you as one face of the Village Butcher in Ranelagh, but since Jessica Kelly came home early on in the pandemic, she has become just as familiar a face.
For me, who loves to support the women of the Irish Food Industry, it is an absolute joy to go and buy my meat where not one but two women can discuss rare and old cuts, new trends, all the mad sausages and the nichest new Irish produce on the market. I have been waxing lyricals about the Village Butcher for years now and I can safely say that you can feel and taste the renewed energy and enthusiasm in the products they have created. Jessica’s venison pies are a firm favourite and I am evangelical about her Italian style chili and fennel sausages. There are no better in Ireland. I will take this opportunity (a bit cheeky I know but it is my blog after all) to remind you that the guys now deliver nationwide and that you absolutely need to try them.
But this post is not about the shop, it’s about Jessica Kelly, the magnificent apprentice butcher. Don’t mind her imposter syndrome, she may be learning but she’s learning very fast and I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy what she creates if I didn’t think it was excellent. I’ll be following her progress with a keen (and greedy) interest and I am available to taste anything in advance of a launch. Just saying.
Joke aside, events are starting up, so organisers, why not get women butchers on your panels? If you can’t see her, you can’t be her. Just saying.
Jessica can and should be found on twitter.
How did your career path bring you here?
Well looking back on it now, I have been in butcher shops my whole life! I remember as a small girl before heading to school I would go to our local butcher shop with my mam, who worked in the deli side of the shop, and having a sausage sambo before heading off. Then as a teen, I worked in my mam and stepdad, Michael’s butcher shop – working in the deli, filling up the butcher counter, and cleaning mostly. I was very unsure of what I wanted to do after school and picked the first course that I could get into. After a short 6 weeks, I decided that was not the route for me, but I could only leave if I got a full-time job. I worked in delis, a few retail jobs here and there, and then back and forth from my family’s butcher shop.
I’d like to add that I really didn’t enjoy working in the butchers. As a young 19-year-old woman, I felt like working in the butchers was a real man’s job; somewhere you wouldn’t find anyone my age and when I mentioned to people where I worked I always felt a sense of judgement. I did’nt feel a passion for my work and I wasn’t very committed.
I then decided to leave Ireland and travel for a bit, ending up in Melbourne, Australia where I worked on a dairy farm and which I absolutely loved! I had thought I would branch out but found myself back working in a butcher shop. I found the butcher shops in Australia to be way ahead of Ireland, so creative with their displays, nice, clean uniforms, and the customers really appreciated good quality meat and the story behind it. My image of working in a butchers’ at home in Ireland was imprinted with outdated shops, the cold, blood-stained aprons, and the smell of an unkempt shop. I really felt like a fire was lit inside me over there and I took in as much information about cuts and recipes as I could. I could manage basic stuff such as chopping chicken and cutting a steak but nothing after that.
COVID brought me home and after a 2-week quarantine, I was back in the family shop helping and doing more than I ever had because we were so so busy. Being home and back to work with a new sense of self, I realised that my family were already pushing the boundaries and doing exactly what I was doing in Oz with the same passion and determination. I had all this on my doorstep and never realised! I then started my apprenticeship at the end of 2020 and here I am today.
How does your career fulfill you?
I’m super lucky, in the sense that I have total freedom in what I’d like to do in our shop; from making a new product, trial a new sausage recipe, or even breaking down a forequarter of beef. It pushes me to want to do more. Also, the satisfaction of customers telling you how nice our handmade products are and that they really enjoyed them is such a great feeling
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Jessica Kelly?
I’m focused on knowing all I can about my craft, I’m hungry for knowledge. I’d like to, hopefully, encourage younger people to take up the trade, especially women. It’s a great route for people who are interested in food. I also think I’d be really interested in the teaching side, whether that is doing workshops, demos, or helping apprentices along their way. I’m hoping as the months tick on that I will no longer feel this sense of imposter syndrome, some days I really surprise myself!
In your opinion, what challenges do women face in the food industry in Ireland?
Well, I think just in my field, the lack of women can be a bit intimidating. I do think there is a new wave of craft butchery coming in Ireland and I hope it breaks stereotypes and changes perceptions of the trade. The idea of what a butcher shop was is changing, and I’m excited to be a part of that change.
I also hope there will be new opportunities for butchers to showcase their skills as I think we are often forgotten about in the media. People love to eat, cook, and bbq but who prepares all of this lovely food?
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why?
I’ve linked up with a number of female butchers from all around the world through Instagram, it’s a small but very supportive community and gives me great inspiration! I am of course in awe of the amazing women we have here in Ireland running the food scene, the list is endless.
I’m lucky to say my Mam inspires me, she’s been in the trade a long time and she knows her stuff. She’s very supportive of everything I do, especially in my new role. She is extremely dedicated to the craft, always trying to push the boundaries, be innovative, and is always supporting all things Irish.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
Women have always been running the show in the food industry, but when it comes to butchery we need more people to champion the craft. I’m so proud of the work women do daily and getting the shoutouts and recognition really helps push females in trade forward.
I would love to see more events and workshops with women collaborating in the food industry.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
I haven’t had this defining moment that I thought to myself ‘oh that’s it’. I’m learning everyday, so the small wins really boost my confidence. When I’m able to break down a carcass on my own and know exactly what I am doing and why?. That’s my moment.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be so snappy not everyone is trying to tell you off! I am only at the start of my career so maybe I can look back to the age I’m at now further down the line and see how I’ve been.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
I think you have to be a great multitasker, my day changes each day. I can go from answering emails, preparing orders, helping customers, making sausages to butchering a goat. But also numeracy, entrepreneurial skills, IT, people skills, the list goes on.
What is your favourite meal to make?
My menu changes dramatically, I’m influenced by what I see online or what a customer has bought that day. But I do always find myself drooling for a homemade curry every week! Just can’t beat it, I like to do a low & slow curry with different meats each time, veggies, and a lot of chilies. I recently made a venison madras and I surprised myself it tasted that good!