Introducing Jessica Leliuga

For the first time in its history, a woman will be part of Team GB in the World Butchers’ Challenge 2017. 

Meat Trades Journal had a chat with Jessica Leliuga of Ye Olde Sausage Shop to discover what it’s like to be the first female representing her country in the competition, and what advice she gives other young, budding butchers.

What inspired you to become a butcher?

In all honesty, I fell into the job when I was a teenager; it was a happy accident. I wanted a weekend job just to earn a bit of extra money and my cousin had just opened a new shop with his father-in-law. I went down on the opening day and he offered me a Saturday job. On my first day I linked about 100lb of sausages and I knew then I was hooked. I’ve loved it ever since and growing up with the trade, learning new skills and progressing through the shop, social media and with competing has been the icing on the cake!

How long have you been butchering for?

Eleven years this September, but that includes being a Saturday girl so I didn’t actually start learning the butchery trade properly until I was 16, had left school and started working full-time.

Where was your first butchery job?

At Ye Olde Sausage Shop. I started when I was 13 and I’ve never left! I’ve never done a day’s work anywhere else and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Who is your butchery idol?

I’ll always idolise David Paintin and Martin Teese, whom I started working for at such a young age. They’ve both guided, taught and supported me throughout the years and helped me to where I’ve got today. They’ve allowed me to introduce my own take on things and take the shop to the next level, which means we can always try and keep a step ahead of the rest.

Have you got a butchery protégé?

I wouldn’t say so, no, because I’m still quite young. I’ve always been used to being someone else’s protégé. Hopefully, in years to come, I’ll be able to influence and guide someone into achieving their dreams.

Beef, pork, lamb or chicken?

Tough question! Beef or pork, they’re both very versatile and there’s a multitude of flavour combinations that work with either. Lamb, for me, is better as a more traditional cut and, as much as I love working with chicken, there are not as many products you can get out of a single chicken.

What is your dream goal to achieve in the butchery industry?

To win the World Butchers’ Challenge would be a dream come true. For the last couple of years I’ve wanted to be on the team, so now I’ve achieved that, I’m hungry for the title! But on top of that, I’d like to encourage more young people – and especially girls – to get into the trade. It can be a daunting task to attempt to work in a very male-dominated industry, but it’s more rewarding than ever now. For most people sexism is a thing of the past, so the majority of people are supportive of a female butcher.

What unique quality are you going to bring to the World Butchers’ Challenge?

Personally, I think I have a very keen eye for detail. Every display I create is made with love and meticulous care. I’ll pinpoint anything that I’m not satisfied with and won’t stop until it looks perfect. I also think that, given the innovative theme of the competition, a feminine touch will go a long way on the finishing and garnishing side of things.

What has been the highlight of your career to far?

Getting the phone call from Tom to say I was on Team GB, by far! Owning my own business is rewarding every single day, but to represent my country is something else.

What is your favourite added-value product to make?

It’s difficult to pick a favourite because value-added products are probably my favourite job at work. I’d go with either a roulade, because the combinations of meat and fillings are endless, or anything with pastry. I think pastry can completely transform a product and there’s so many different ways you can present it – whether it be using shaped cutters, lattice or plaiting.

If you weren’t a butcher, what you be?

When I was younger, I wanted to be in the police. But since discovering my creative side a few years back, I like to think I’d go into cake decorating or flower arranging. I love making a pretty, eye-catching display.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?

Shark – and I can definitely say I won’t be indulging in it again! I’m always game for trying new things, but this one won’t be one I’d try again.

What advice would you give to young people wanting to get into the industry?
Go for it! Don’t be afraid of a) what happens if you mess up or b) what other people think. Life is about learning and you’ll soon realise that most people are there to help you rather than see you fall. Ninety percent of the time, the next time you come to do something, you’ll remember what went wrong last time and it’ll turn out twice as good because you learn from your mistakes. When I was 13, it wasn’t necessarily considered ‘cool’ to work in a butcher’s shop, but I enjoyed it and I’ve come far since leaving school. When I bump into people that I went to school with, they’re surprised I’ve stuck with it, but when I tell them what I’ve achieved since leaving, they’re shocked but extremely complimentary.

Who is going to be your biggest competition in the World Butchers’ Challenge?

For me, our biggest competition is ourselves. Providing we all work hard from now until March and are confident with what we’re bringing to the table on the day and perform to the best of our abilities, then we should let everyone else worry about us and what we’re going to do; we needn’t worry about any competition.

What is the best thing about being a butcher?

The constant buzz that I get, the reward of a busy day and satisfied customers and the fact that there’s always something new to learn. I’d hate to be in a mundane job where it’s the same thing day in, day out. In butchery there’s always different products to create, new flavours to play around with and new customers to impress.

To keep up to date with Leliuga and her progress, follow her on Twitter: @YeOldeSausShop and Facebook: Ye Olde Sausage Shop.

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