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From computer games to boutique butcher, meet top city meat supplier Jonny Farrell

1 year ago

From computer games to boutique butcher, meet top city meat supplier Jonny Farrell
Butcher Farrell's

Until eight years ago, Jonny Farrell was a musician and audio engineer supplying the music and sound effects for a collection of top computer games.

But he’s now supplying meat to some of the best restaurants in Liverpool after a career change to become a butcher!

Jonny, 36, admits it’s a dramatically different role and an unusual choice, not least as butchery is usually a trade handed down through generations of families.

But he says: “I’ve found a future in butchery and I love it, and I’m passionate about what I do.

“It’s about being a new breed of butcher, getting the best cuts of meat and helping customers with ideas of how to cook it; we have a whole new approach.

“Butchery is a dying trade, many people are closing down, but I just love food, I love cooking it, and I love the social aspect of dealing with customers.  That’s what it comes down to.”

Credit: Butcher Farrell's
Credit: Butcher Farrell’s

Jonny, who’s originally from Mawdsley but now lives in Skelmersdale, launched Butcher Farrell’s Meat Emporium in the Owd Barn just outside Ormskirk in November 2021.

And in 18 months he has customers including Manifest, Belzan, Baltic Market, Duke Street Market and more, and he and his now-colleagues, former chefs James Shaw and Sam Bailey, have just taken the UK’s Best Butcher’s Shop of the Year Award 2023.

“That was a phenomenal achievement is such a short space of time, especially for three people who have not cut their teeth on sweeping up the sawdust from the floor of their dad’s shop on a Saturday afternoon. 

“We’re just three guys and ex-chefs enjoying what we do, and we’re like a big family.”

Although butchery wasn’t always the plan, Jonny grew up in a family where food was a big deal; the family always gathered together for a meal and he says: “It wasn’t uncommon for me to come home from school and see my dad skinning some rabbits, or plucking a pheasant, so the concept of butchers and butchering was very much part of my upbringing. 

“And at an early age my mam would get me in the kitchen and make me cook with her, usually because I’d been in trouble and wasn’t allowed to play outside. That’s where I picked up most of my skills.

“I continued working in kitchens growing up, but I was more into music and went to uni to study that instead.”

Nevertheless his route into butchery was still via a strange and circuitous route.  After studying music production and composition at Leeds University, he spent many years as a full-time musician, first with his own jazz band, Jinza, and then playing saxophone with a heavy metal band.

But it was a night out with his mates, having had a few too many scoops, that led to him travelling east to Asia.

Jonny laughs: “My brother was a diplomat in Beijing and one night, me and some friends were out and got drunk, and we bought tickets to Beijing.”

He flew to China in 2011 and at first got a job with a tech company, providing the sound design for computer games. But when his then girlfriend – now wife Amy, with whom he has two boys, Oscar, five and Felix, three – was relocated to Shanghai, he couldn’t get any audio work.

Credit: Butcher Farrell's
Credit: Butcher Farrell’s

“Then, I was walking down a street one day when I saw a butcher’s shop that was looking for a butcher, so I thought why not, I do cook and when I was in Beijing I’d run a bar and kitchen part-time too.  I wanted to learn to be a butcher, but they basically wanted a white guy to stand at the front speaking to westerners to get them in.

“But I got on YouTube and bought books and taught myself what I could.” Jonny left there to cook pork scratchings which he sold to ex-pat bars and, after he and his wife moved to Hong Kong where her parents were from, he got a job working in two of top chef Jason Atherton’s restaurants.

“From there I managed to blag my way to being head butcher at a western-style butchers and then was headhunted for a restaurant called Maximal Concepts where I learned a lot, and then for the Blue Butcher restaurant, one of the top steak restaurants in Hong Kong.”

When Amy became pregnant, they came back to the UK and after working for TV presenter and farmer Jimmy Doherty, he decided to head back to the north.

He worked at various traditional butcheries across the UK before settling back near his home town. After completing a Masters degree in food science at Manchester Metropolitan University, he combined that with his butchery knowledge and opened his first shop.

Credit: Butcher Farrell's
Credit: Butcher Farrell’s

Jonny took on chef of 15 years James Shaw, and together they decided to push the boundaries, to create new butchery products and cuts to inspire chefs, amateur cooks and meat lovers, then new chef Sam joined the team.

“I only get high welfare produce in and it speaks for itself. I know all the farms where my animals come from, there’s complete traceability and I – we – go the extra mile for our customers.

“We now do sales online across the UK which I’d like to expand – and I’d like to go into schools and talk to young kids about eating fewer takeaways and cooking a little bit.

“It is a little bit different to being a musician or working on computer games, but seeing a satisfied customer, or sharing a few ideas with them, is music to my ears.”

Butcher Farrell’s top five meat tips

  • Make sure you buy high welfare meat, animals that are treated to the utmost standards and care. 
  • You don’t need meat for every meal of the day. Despite being a butcher I always tell my customers to eat a varied diet. 
  • Shop smart, you can buy larger cuts like a topside of beef, whole chicken, or pork shoulder, that way the leftovers can be stretched over the week, making your meals more economical.
  • Shop at your local butcher, we’re a dying breed, if you don’t use us you’ll lose us. At BFME we source responsibly and make sure the farmer gets paid well.
  • Rest and rest again. When cooking meat, remember not to cook directly after taking it out from the fridge. Let it get to room temp beforehand and make sure to rest afterwards to ensure the juices stay in. 

For more info on Butcher Farrell’s you can check out his website HERE.

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