By Michael Lowe
Local Chef Shawn Murphy has set up a new shop in Ridgeway. The business, re-branded as a custom butcher shop, is looking to change the way we shop for meat.
Shawn Murphy is a graduate of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute where he studied from 2005-2007. My first meeting with Murphy was in 2011. I was part of Chef Darren Stoute’s team.
Stoute was defending his title from the previous year at the Iron Chef Niagara competition held at Johnny Rocco’s restaurant in Niagara Falls — Murphy was a contender. I recall thinking then that Murphy was extremely confident, some might even say cocky, but very enthusiastic. With just a couple of hours before competition he was just setting up to make pastry for beef Wellington. Our team, prepped and ready to go, admired Murphy’s drive and determination so we pitched in to help.
That drive and determination is at the very core of Murphy’s character. He had been keeping busy catering, and after a short stint running a small take-out shop on Lake Street in St. Catharines, he pulled up stakes and moved to Ridgeway.
I caught up with him last weekend at his new shop (above and top) Your Farm Gate Butcher and Catering, which he is building into a full-fledged butcher shop. In addition to selling fresh, top quality meat he will continue to offer some prepared foods and a small take-out menu. I wanted to get an inside look at his new business so he invited me out for a lesson in butchering.
Murphy (photo above) toured me around the shop while explaining the main reasons for the change in direction for his business. “I knew the people of Niagara wanted better local food, but there were issues in the supply chain. Community Supported Agriculture numbers have dwindled and there has been dilution in farmers markets. The butcher shop eliminates this in a vertically integrated system that takes pressure off the farmer.” His products consist of grass-fed, black Angus beef and pork derived from a cross of the Duroc and Large Black breeds.
Murphy’s shop currently has two large walk-in refrigeration units where he stores whole pigs and beef portions (photo above). He pulled out a front quarter of beef, muscled it to the work area and slapped it down on the table. After explaining the various cuts that can come from this part of the animal, he starts to work with a boning knife and saw. I witnessed that methodically breaking down portions of this size, cutting carefully around, and sawing through the large bones, is hard work (photo below).
After about a half hour or so there are a few roasts and shank pieces ready for sale (photo below). As he explains further, “We want to eliminate waste and make sure the profits go where they’re supposed to. Real food is not cheap, and nothing cheap is good, but I feel we have hit a balance that makes it work for everyone.”
Next, Murphy hauls out a hindquarter of beef and describes what will become of that. He points to the leg bone, indicates where the joint is located, and makes a cut to define where to start. He then offers me the knife and asks, “Ready to have some fun?”
I work slowly at first, carefully following the bone until the joint is visible. Murphy helps by prying open the cut area to better expose the joint. In a few minutes we have it separated. As indicated earlier, it looked like hard work— it is really damned hard work. We now have various cuts including inside and outside round, some stewing beef, reserved fat to render into suet, and some trim for ground beef (photo below).
When the work is done, I jokingly ask if there’s any good place to eat. Murphy hoists a 5 gallon stock pot that had been had been cooling on the stove over to the table. We dig into the pot like two kids in a candy store.
With a slotted spoon, he scoops out tender pieces of beef and softened onions. At the stove he reheats the beef and onions and piles it on a couple of his homemade buns that are spread with roasted garlic and topped with Taleggio cheese. A few minutes in the oven and we sit down to one of the best damn sandwiches you can imagine (photo below).
It’s a Sunday and the shop is closed. There’s a shadow at the window just before the door swings open. A lady walks in and tells us that she just heard about the shop from the owner of the neighbouring antique store. She says she and her husband recently moved to the area from the U.S.—and both are foodies.
Murphy hands her his card and shows her the cuts we just prepared. He explains how you can call in and order specific cuts for pick up later. He also talks about educating consumers as to the lesser-known cuts and how to use them. She seems excited and vows to return with her husband. Perhaps Murphy’s business model will succeed and become a local source for quality conscious cooks.
Your Farm Gate Butcher Shop & Catering
3822 Dominion Road,
Hours: Tuesday- Friday,
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.