You could say that Nick Matusiak was always meant to be a butcher.
While visiting family in Winnipeg growing up, he’d stop in to see his Uncle Paul, a butcher by trade, at the meat counter of the grocery store he owned.
“I used to follow my uncle around, and this one time, I went into the meat cooler with him. He was working a meat grinder using a foot pedal,” remembers Matusiak. “I said, ‘hey, Uncle Paul, can I push the pedal?’ and he was like, ‘No. You become a butcher, and then you can push the pedal all you want.’”
Today, Matusiak pushes the pedal all he wants at his own shop, Oakville’s Finest Butchery.
Training to become a butcher
Though Fanshawe College in Ontario offers a certification program for butchers, many in the field, like Matusiak, learned on the job.
Matusiak got lots of hands-on learning throughout his career, particularly working at Halenda’s Fine Foods in Oshawa, where the master butcher there at the time, Sylvain Jalbert, taught him the skills he needed to succeed in the industry.
“He was my first mentor. Watching him cut was very inspiring,” says Matusiak. “I wanted to be as fast and as thorough as him one day. So, I worked my butt off.”
Besides working at Halenda’s, Matusiak was also employed at Oshawa-based Buckingham Meat Market, where he was trained by Bill and Wayne Kuzenko. He also has experience in both industrial and retail settings as a butcher.
“I was young and was always trying to get as much information as I could,” he says.
Ontario’s meat and poultry sector plays an integral role in feeding families across the province. It was a passion for providing families with the best products possible that led Matusiak to open Oakville’s Finest Butchery in March 2021.
“People come to the butcher shop because they want a nice piece of meat. They want something of quality. It’s the centrepiece for their dinner,” says Matusiak.
“If you want the best, you go to a butcher shop. My philosophy with my store is when you come in there . . . you’re getting prime grade product, the best of the best.”
More than just cutting meat
There’s more to the job than simply cutting meat.
Matusiak says many people are surprised to learn how much preparation retail butchers do before the business even opens for the day. This includes ensuring all the shop’s equipment and surfaces are clean, preparing fresh products for the display case, making sausages and pies, and fulfilling orders.
“A lot of my customers ask, ‘why do you get up at 3:30 in the morning?’ With professions like bakers and butchers, there’s so much work that goes on behind closed doors that you don’t know about,” he says. “It’s not like a furniture store where you just open the door and people can come in and look at a product that has no expiry date.”
And you might be surprised at the level of skill required to cut meat and poultry products properly. Many people think it’s easy— until they try it.
“With a quality butcher, there’s a lot of work that goes into trimming and getting all that gristle and stuff out of there,” says Matusiak. “Top quality butchers put a lot of care into their end product.”
For those looking to become a butcher, Matusiak’s one piece of advice is to be ready to put in the time to become good at the trade.
“Your skill and speed don’t come overnight. You really must put your head down and work, and good things will come. Your skill will develop before your eyes,” he says.
“Everybody thinks they’re going come into the industry and just be good at it. Some people aren’t cut out to be a butcher, but if you’re determined, you can become one of the best cutters out there.”
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