Fabio Paolo Barbieri (fpb) wrote,
Fabio Paolo Barbieri


Today I visited two places who sell meat (I am being careful not to call them by the professional name of butchers, for reasons that will become clear) to see if, expecting not to find shin of beef on display, I could at least order it. First, I went to the local Sainsbury's, a leading supermarket chain, which, like most English supermarkets, has a pretty meat counter with staff in nice-looking white aprons, for all the world like professional butchers. There I was informed not only that the resources of mighty Sainsbury's were not up to the simple task of ordering an unusual cut of beef if a client wanted one, but that the employee who answered me had never heard of Ossobuco OR of shin of beef, and was only trained to set up the limited amount of cuts that Sainsbury's were willing to sell. To give an idea, the only beef on bone he had ever seen was the T-bone steak, and that, if you please, only for Christmas. With all his white apron and cap and the shiny glass of his display cabinets, he was - God forgive his employers - no more than a shelf-stacker specializing in meat, and had got no more skills than that for the work he did.

Then I went to the nearest independent butcher shop - not very near (more than a mile away), but then this is a suburban district and not densely populated. From the moment I entered I got a seriously weird vibe about the place: apart from being altogether too neat and polished for what is, after all, a bit of a messy trade - especially late in the day as it was - I felt the owner looking at me with a surly, suspicious and certainly unwelcoming stare. I started explaining what I wanted.
"We call it Ossobuco in Italy..."
"I know what you mean."(One relieved Italian, after the incredible experience at Sainsbury's)
"Would you buy the whole part?"(I thought: I must have got him wrong.)
"The whole part - you mean the whole leg?"
"Well - no, I only wanted a Christmas dinner."
"Then it's no good for me, I couldn't sell the rest."

And now tell me again, boys and girls, how and why it is so wicked that Poles and Romanians should come in and take all your jobs. This man, who was rather old, had a store that relied so much on the local clientele that he was startled and looked suspicious when someone unknown walked in. And yet, in front of the problem of disposing of a single leg of beef, he expected me, the customer, to make life easy for him by taking it all myself. Apart from anything else, I am not a butcher, but I can think myself of ways to not only dispose of at least enough of it not to make a loss, but also to do so while brightening the experience of your own clients; and so can any of you who has spent even a little time in business. Exhibit it as a novelty and a rare opportunity. Print out little leaflets with the recipe for Ossobuco alla Milanese, assuring your clients - and it is true - that this is the most admired meat dish in Italy, where people know a thing or two about good food. Assure them - and it is true - that it is easy and inexpensive to make, all that it requires is time and occasional attention. You could even make little packets of herbs and lemon zest to go with each portion; the price would be next to nothing, and it would impress your clients with the thought you'd put in. Talk personally to all those you know to favour casseroles and brisket, cheap stewing cuts, and/or fancy foreign dishes. And price it to sell; shin of beef is not the most expensive cut by a long way. Is that too tough? It's elementary salesmanship. But this man, who had been in his business long enough to know what "ossobuco" was - that is, he was not a glorified shelf-stacker like his unhappy contemporary at Sainsbury's - literally reacted with hostility to a new client, and expected the client to pay a fortune and saddle himself with a years' worth of ossibuchi, rather than do his goddamn job as a butcher. AND NOW TELL ME AGAIN, BOYS AND GIRLS, HOW AND WHY IT IS SO WICKED THAT POLES AND ROMANIANS SHOULD COME IN AND TAKE ALL YOUR JOBS.
Tags: food
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