FT Foodies: Jack O’Shea

Jack O’Shea grew up on his father’s beef farm in Tipperary, Ireland. He now has his own butcher’s business, with branches in Brussels and in Selfridges, London. He supplies beef to chefs including Heston Blumenthal.

Did the idea of butchery seem barbaric as a child?

Yes, though I got over it quickly. We used to make burgers on Saturdays as kids, but it was a chore – I had no real interest until later on. Being stuck in a butcher’s shop wasn’t ideal for a youngster.

Did you ever go off the idea of following the family business?

When I started my career, butchers were a dying breed, and then I started to appreciate what I had learnt. Beef is in the blood.

Why did you choose to open a shop in Brussels?

I was getting frustrated by Ireland – and by the big retailers getting a foothold there. I didn’t want to hang around Tipperary getting old prematurely when I could create a new market in a country that still appreciates the small retailer.

How was the business received there?

It took years to become profitable. I was left wondering whether I had just made the worst move of my life. But now it’s an institution.

How does continental butchery differ to the British style?

In the UK we will cut a piece of meat off the carcass and it may contain four or five different muscles, and so you have different flavour patterns in one slice. It’s broken along certain classical lines. Continental butchery says why cut down that line when you’re cutting through the middle of the muscle. Why not take out the muscle as a whole. It’s like being a surgeon – in fact I could probably operate on someone, I reckon…

How much time do you spend cutting, and how much doing business?

Someone referred to me yesterday as a part-time butcher, which is what I’ve become. The business was exploding and getting to that tipping point where I could not do it as a one-man band. Two new directors joined the business – we’re just sitting now on the diving board, ready to dive in.

What do you think about London’s new breed of steakhouse?

A lot of them are copy-and-paste versions of a New York steakhouse that has, critically, a seriously hot grill – that was the thing we were missing. Steak needs serious heat to be cooked effectively – you’re caramelising the sugars in the muscles before the steak gets to be overdone.

What will you cook for Easter lunch?

I’ll probably be corralled towards the lamb, although I don’t appreciate it at this time of year. I’ll probably have a back-up goose somewhere around. If I do the lamb, it will be over wood on the Argentine barbecue at my house.


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