Pressing the flesh in Nelson

Last updated 10:42 14/01/2011
Phillip Gauthier
PERSONAL SERVICE: Philippe Gauthier has brought a specialist butchery back to central Nelson.

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A French butcher is trying to reacquaint Nelson people with the idea of buying their meat from a specialist. Geoff Collett pays a visit.

It's mid-afternoon on Monday and Philippe Gauthier's latest customer proves his point perfectly.

The woman at the counter of his new butcher's shop on the edge of Montgomery Square has come in with a recipe for a terrine she saw Jamie Oliver making on television last week, and she's going to have a go at it.

She discusses her plans with Mr Gauthier and over the course of 10 minutes or so, he chats and selects the various cuts she will need, talks a bit more about the recipe, weighs the meat carefully, and notes how whenever a new dish features on a popular cooking show, he can count on a series of customers coming in during the next few days intent on trying it out for themselves.

Until a month ago, they had lean pickings as to where they could find such specialist help in central Nelson. The lack of butchers' shops in the city has been a glaring gap in the local food retail scene, with supermarkets dominating the meat trade here perhaps more than any other fresh produce.

Mr Gauthier admits that situation had perplexed him, since he moved here with his Kiwi wife, Rosemary, and their family from his native France three years ago.

It was particularly at odds with the world he was familiar with, from a lifetime of working in the meat trade and as a fourth-generation butcher, in a country where there is a butcher on every block, as he puts it.

But while working first with Richmond's sole specialist butcher, Jeff O'Neill, and later in the meat department at FreshChoice in Nelson, he became convinced that the demand for a central Nelson shop was there.

So, drawing on the same style of shop he ran in Antibes in the south of France for many years but adapted for Kiwi tastes, he is trying to reacquaint Nelson people with the idea of buying their meat from a specialist.

"It seems like there are quite a few people who are ready to come back to it," he says.

His aim is to convince them that he can offer the usual advantages of a good retailer – personal service, a good range, quality, knowledge, advice – without appearing too expensive.

He knows it will take time, and after a month of trading isn't ready to draw many conclusions about how the business might do long term.

He has had the odd hiccup – he had to change his principal meat supplier in the midst of the Christmas mayhem because of reliability issues – but says he has also received plenty of encouragement from his early customers.

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He is relying on word of mouth and passing foot traffic to make his presence known, and a feature of his day-to-day business has been the number of people calling in just to look, perhaps intrigued by the novelty of a central-city butchery.

While the meat might be the main event, he carries a range of delicatessen lines and, notably, cheese – French, of course, sourced from an Auckland-based importer. It is possible, he says, that in time cheese will become as much a feature of the business as the meat, and it has been popular so far.

The location on Montgomery Square has worked well, particularly on Saturday mornings, when market-goers come for their weekend meat after trawling the stalls in the nearby car park.

That style of shopping – picking up some vegetables here, fruit there, a loaf of bread at the bakery and then nipping into the butcher's – is exactly what he is trying to encourage.

Mindful, though, that nobody else has been able to make butchering work in the city for so long, he is cautious.

"I don't want to sound too sure of myself," he says.

He knows getting through a Nelson winter will be the real test.

But then again, given the size of the city and the niche he is convinced exists, "I wouldn't understand why it can't work".

- Nelson

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