A-list article

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The lovely Nina Glatzel from the a-list.at interviewed me recently on my favourite hangouts and hotspots in Vienna. The full article is here (German). The English translation can be found below!

Richard Holmes makes Britwurst: traditional British sausages, produced by hand and with different spices. His current gastronomical project is “in the making”.

Britwurst is a project that aims to establish handmade, British sausages in Vienna. How did it happen?

When I visited my home in England, I noticed that most of all I missed the traditional British sausages on my return to Vienna. I’ve always liked cooking and being creative, and after researching online forums and videos I started to produce my own. After several failed attempts, I found a product I was happy with and asked friends and acquaintances to taste them. After they came back to me with lots of praise, I realised that there’s was a gap in the market here in Vienna. Trying to start a business is extremely difficult. The Austrian rules on Artisanal foods are very strict. After a few setbacks, I now have the backing of the Lebensmittelgewerbe (Austrian Food Industry), so I can slowly start to see my dream progress. Until the the company is officially up and running I am producing samples every couple of weeks to anyone who is interested to try.

You have been living in Vienna for seven years. What do you like so much about the city?

I am very lucky to have good friends in Vienna, who have introduced me to lots of different sights and scenes. I like Vienna due to its modest size. Travelling around the city is always very quick. Also Vienna’s cultural and restaurant scene is growing very quickly and I am looking forward to its development in the next few years.

For research purposes I guess you are quite a bit out and about in the city. What can you tell us about your newest restaurant findings?

I’m always looking for the best burger in Vienna but have so far not found one that can keep up with the street-style burgers in England or Paris. I am looking forward to try Lane & Merrimans (Spitalgasse 3, 1090) or a couple of places which are soon opening: Said The Butcher To The Cow (Opernring 11, 1010) and the pop-up project Habern (www.facebook.com/burgerhabern). The best pizza in the city is at Disco Volante (Gumpendorferstrasse 98, 1060). If I fancy something sweet, then I am going to Tart’a Tata (Lindengasse 35, 1070). The new pâtissier is creating amazing cakes and desserts.

You are concentrating on everything meat at the moment. Where in Vienna is ‘Meat Heaven’?

The ham in Fleischerei Ringl (Brückengasse 16, 1060) is amazing. I like to go there even if it is just to window shop. The meat I am using for my sausages comes from Fleischerei Hödl (Loosgasse 3, 1230). Unlike most butchers nowadays he is butchering the meat himself (while most get the meat already in cuts and just put it out to show). You can not beat this in terms of freshness.

In addition to Britwurst you are also working in a pub. What is the pub scene like in Vienna?

There are lots of pubs popping up all over Vienna, and I think there are already over 20 of them here. When I feel like going to one apart from the one I work in, I like to go to Shebeen. I have never been disappointed by their food or drinks. But actually I prefer a classic Viennese Beisl such as Anzengruber (Schleifmühlgasse 19, 1040) or the Alt Wien (Bäckerstraße 9, 1010).

Where do you go to cure a hangover after a long night?

Wherever Eggs Benedict and Earl Grey are on the menu! A typical English breakfast is also only complete with British bacon and sausages – something that will hopefully provide in future. The rooftop terrace at 25hours Hotel (Lerchenfelder Straße 1-3, 1070) on a sunny day is a great way to drive away the cobwebs and hangover. For my last hangover I found comfort in Figar (Kirchengasse 18, 1070).

You are a big music fan, where do you go to concerts in Vienna?

I like the WUK (Währinger Straße 59, 1090), because of its atmosphere and the diversity of bands playing there. I have also seen great concerts in the B72 (Hernalser Gürtel Bogen 72-73) and Chelsea (U-Bahn Bogen 29-32), right up to stadium venues such as the Stadthalle (Vogelweidplatz 14, 1150).

Design friends know your sausages from the opening of the stationery shop Sous-Bois. Where in Vienna can you find other good design?

I could spend a lot of money at the Feschmarkt (www.feschmarkt.info) which happens twice a year. Sous-Bois (Neustiftgasse 33, 1070) is perfect for gifts and my notebook collection grows every time I visit. Designqvist (Westbahnstraße 21, 1070) has also lovely small accessories for the kitchen.

To clear your head of Business Plans, where do you relax?

When the weather is nice I like to cycle along the Danube to Kraftwerk Greifenstein and back, perhaps stopping off at the Naschmarkt to visit the Asian shops searching for new spices to inspire me. If it is really hot then I like to go boating at the Alte Donau. But I have also found that there is no time to relax if you want to start a business!

When friends from home come to visit, what do you show them?

In the summer, various Heuringens on the outskirts of the city, the BBQ at the Volksgarten Pavilion, or Beer and Pork Knuckles at the Schweizerhaus (Prater 116, 1020)! In the winter I would take them for a giant schnitzel at Figlmüller (Wollzeile 5, 1010) or to the Palmenhaus (Burggarten 1, 1010) for delicious desserts or cakes.

Thank you Nina for the lovely interview!

Waiting for the fat lady to sing…

An eventful few weeks have now passed since my last update, which to be honest was a bit of a downer in proceedings. The Falter article (see below) brought more business and offers of help than I would ever have thought, which saw me running and zigzagging across the city delivering to new customers doors (which for the record left me completely shattered, so perhaps will have to think up a new strategy for a collection/delivery situation on that one), as well as restaurants asking to place orders immediately and to start doing Britwurst themed nights. I was also extremely grateful of a few emails offering assistance and help in every shape and form. Business consultancy, production assistance, and legal advice all came my way and all for the price of a bag of sausages (my kind of currency!).

The Facebook page has also had a lot of exposure and the likes, comments, and messages are on the up and increase as well. I can quite happily make a 10kg batch and have them all ready to be sent out a couple of hours later. I feel this is the kind of size I can work with in the kitchen at the moment and it feels more comfortable to work with as well. Unfortunately I have had to let people down as I have literally run out, and this almost breaks my heart to do so as I would love to be able to cater for everyones needs and keep everyone in supply. But alas, time and space take precedence over this, and for people who are not fortunate enough to sample some, go to top of the list to the next batch. After 2 weeks of constant producing, i’ve decided to take a break for a couple of weeks and concentrate on the business side of things and get those up to speed and scratch instead. The last thing I want is for people to get bored of continuously eating sausages and then when I do eventually open have no business as they have had enough of my freebies!

Another positive I can take at the moment is that I have changed my meat supplier. I (embarrassingly) was purchasing supermarket meat before from Merkur, generally because of its cost and location. I was then recommended to use a butcher on the outskirts of Vienna who is one of the last proper butchers in the city. When I say proper I mean that they are preparing the carcasses on site directly from the abattoir, instead of many of the butchers who are just preparing the cuts of meat which have come in ‘pre packed’ from the abattoirs. The difference and quality in the meat was something I had never expected. The sausages keep their colour for 5 or 6 days, instead of the supermarket bought meat which started to lose colour as early as the 2nd day. For meat which is only minced and seasoned the taste is also now of a higher quality. The fat content has dramatically reduced as well, with the supermarket meat sausages generally leaving a small pool of fat in the bottom of the frying pan after cooking, and is now next to nothing.

The most positive thing I have got to update is the meeting this morning with the Master Butcher of Vienna. I arrived in the 20th district to his butchery and was also surprised (and even more pleased) to see that the Lebensmittelgewerbe Minister was in attendance for the meeting as well. I had organised an official interpreter for the meeting too, just to be on the safe side, and who was also present. I’m glad he was there, as eventhough my Deutsch is good, I would of really struggled with todays meeting without the aid of Dr. Lacom. I understood the basics of what they were saying, but there was no way that I would’ve been able to respond to their questions without an aid. Dr Lacom is a retired lawyer as well, so this came in handy too for when I had some legal questions.

Someone last week suggested that I took some cooked samples with me, as well as some fresh samples too so I awoke earlier to prepare these, ummed and arrrred as to whether to wear a tie or not (I went without and wore my barbour jacket instead – make of that what you will) and instantly regretted leaving the tie off when I saw the minister was wearing one. Still, we’re in Austria right – where every single casual businessman walks around dressed like Jeremy Clarkson so I thought I would follow suit.

After introductions we went down into a makeshift office in the cellar of the butchery and admittedly I was fairly nervous of what we were going to discuss. To be honest I had no idea what was going to be talked about. I had a small agenda in my head of what I wanted to ask, mainly about the possibility of me working under a butchers license at the beginning to get me up and running. This would mean a limited partnership with another butcher who would be a silent partner, whilst I would be producing Britwurst under his name. A situation I was not very happy with as I want everything to be 100% my own, whether it be business wise, company wise, and even more important, profit wise as well. This has been my 3 year struggle and i’ve gone this far, I want my name above the door, not someone else’s!

Mr. Fellner, the Master Butcher, started asking me various questions about the sausages, the ingredients, the amount of water used, what is used to bind the sausages and how much, just so he and Dr. Schebesta could get an idea of what the actual sausage and try and compare it to an Austrian/German sausage. It turns out that there is a codex for sausages in which they are registered and have to be made by that registered protocol. It turns out that they couldn’t find one for a British style sausage which isn’t a problem, but I will have to advise on all packaging that they are not made to a specific codex rule. This won’t cause any difficulties at the beginning due to my size of distribution, but could perhaps cause some issues later on if I ever want to expand. There are ways around it though, but this is a bridge which needs to be crossed when the time is right.

All answers to Mr. Fellners questions proved to be correct and he seemed satisfied with what I was telling him. Dr. Schebesta and Mr. Fellner then explained that they would then write a recommendation for me which I could then use again for re-application for the “Feststellung der individuellen Befähigung” für “Fleischer (Handwerk), eingeschränkt auf die Erzeugung von britischer Wurst” (although I was told this time to use the term “Britwurst” instead of “britischer Wurst”). For those who haven’t read below, this basically translates to “an individual qualification for butchery, but limited to the production of British style sausage”. When I applied for it before it was refused (see also below) on more than just factor, not only that they thought I didn’t have enough production experience but also that I didn’t have enough management experience either. I emphasised this with Mr. Fellner and Dr. Schebesta but both said that I had proved my experience by answering the questions correctly and also that they would mention in the recommendation that they both thought that I had enough management/business experience too. I failed to touch on this when I posted about the decline sent through from the MA63, but as just mentioned, another reason for them turning me down is that they thought I didn’t have enough business experience. How this can effect the taste and quality of my produce I am unaware of, but rules are rules. Theres always the argument of “how can I gain experience if i’m a start up business”, but won’t push this one as really don’t want to tread on anyones toes.

The most positive sentence my interpreter translated for me was “Mr Fellner and Dr. Schebesta have never been challenged by the MA63 once they have made a recommendation”. Now not one to get overly excited about things or put all my hopes on something, but I took this as the green light and that the MA63 can say nothing but yes. I will hopefully receive the recommendation within a week and then I will immediately apply for the qualification license again. There is still a part of me which has doubt and I can see someone not liking the idea, but i’ve been let down so many times before that I am expecting it. The most important thing for me is that I have the backing of Mr. Fellner and Dr. Schebesta.

It was also introduced to me that I need to get my sausages analysed by a company called AGES (Österreichische Agentur für Geshundheit und Ernährungssicherheit / Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety) to determine their shelf life. It was mentioned that minced meat produce has to be sold within 24 hours of production, but my argument was that sausages have salt in them which acts as a preservative and generally can last 7 days if kept at the right temperature. There are however exemptions, and AGES will be able to provide me the official shelf life, along with other information and data.

After a couple of other formalities and questions we all left with firm handshakes and polite smiles and I went off skipping down the street with positive news in the air (I didn’t really, I phoned my Mum). It’s now time to play the waiting game on the recommendation, and then a second waiting game with the application to the MA63. But it’s something I have done before, and something I can definitely do again. The most positive point I can take from this meeting was that they are happy with what I am doing, and that they are backing the project. I can not see any negatives from this at the moment (i’m clearly waiting for something to go wrong, but perhaps it is my time for it all to go swimmingly well), but we will see.

Before I forget, I must say a big thank you to you all who have helped, advised, tasted, promoted etc. so far. If I was to name names I would only forget someone, so it’s best that I don’t. You know who you are, so thank you.

I guess it’s now time to dust down the business plan again and get that up to scratch! A break in production means that instead of finding me up to my arms in meat, you’ll probably find me up to my arms in cleaning equipment whilst I clean everything in sight just to avoid even opening the first page, which incidentally says on the front cover “prepared July 2012″. Yep it really has been that long.

Once again, thanks for your support, the fact the website crashed a couple of times due to bandwidth issues is a definite compliment! Hopefully these issues have been resolved now and will not cause any further problems.

#letspushthingsforward,

Rich.

Falter article:

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You can find the link to a higher resolution picture here:

A fairly rough translation for my non-German speaking followers:

“In his home town of Colchester, there are also cooking traditions, says Richard Holmes. Which consist of putting something in the microwave and then adding a little garnish. For some reason he always went in a different direction, and as a child wanted to be a chef, but even better a sports journalist, because in his childish mind you got to travel the world to watch football matches.

Holmes didn’t become a sports journalist, but when he was younger he still travelled a lot of the world, living in Norway and the USA, before finally coming to Austria eight years ago. He fitted well into the Expat lifestyle, working in pubs, and as a native speaker in kindergartens. He then thought it might be time for a second career choice.

At least a bit. Because the centre of his interest for a few years now is a food product: the sausage. He started reading English sausage books, and surfing on Youtube all possible sausage making videos and tormented friends with first attempts which neither looked or tasted appetizing. And then had the dream to make a restaurant in which pork would be the main subject but staged better than the usual type widely seen in Vienna, perhaps “as a kind of butcher restaurant”.

This dream was quickly revised into the somewhat seemingly realist direction of a deli or a snack restaurant. “But I realized that this could be economically risky if people would perhaps sit in it for hours” says Holmes, “We have all done it before!” His next idea was then a Food Truck, also not so easy, and finally the young man wanted to make only his sausage and just sell it how it is. But “the law is against me”.

Richard Holmes left a stack of chronologically ordered letters of correspondence with the authorities on the table: the advice of a well-intentioned advisor from the economic chamber, who advised him to take an intensive course with English sausage guru Marc Frederic (“Le Charcutier Anglais”), but also the negative reactions from the various municipal departments of this request, and also the bureaucratic mazes in which he was sent, along the rubber walls against which it was allowed to run.

The only way to succeed was “to learn German and to make a butchery apprenticeship” as it was recommended by the Magistrate to him, who are not making things easy. To find the normal way, you have probably have to live a little longer than eight years in Vienna.

Richard Holmes gives away his sausages for the time being, producing only for himself, his friends and for promotion, documenting his sausage making story on a blog (thepiggerpicture.com). There he writes his entrepreneurial frustration from the soul and in the meantime perfects his producing technique. On the internet he is searching always for a bigger and better sausage machine. Or an impressive semi professional meat grinder made ​​of cast iron. He even has a 3 finger chain mail glove, very impressive.

Englands sausage culture is huge, tells Holmes, with 500 different local varieties there. His own repertoire includes seven variations, and after a lot of time and materials used, he fries up a little patty for us to taste and sample, before filling it into the casings.

Richard Holmes cuts, minces, seasons, and kneads, before filling a device, then threads on the moistened pig intestine and operates the crank – a sausage is born. A touching moment of beauty. Traditionally, the Cumberland sausage would indeed offered as a snail form, but that is somehow out, says the sausage maker, the braided bundle variant was more popular to learn, “it was just like trying to tie my shoelaces”.

In September, Richard Holmes celebrates his 30th birthday, and his confidence to have put in place a solution for his business model is nothing but impressive.

And the sausages taste really terrific.”

Cutting the rough with the smooth

This roller coaster journey has once again added a few more twists and turns, along with some highs and lows just for good measure.

After the rejection phone call from the MA63 where they told me on the phone that I wouldn’t have to pay anything because it was over the phone I decided that I actually wanted everything in writing from them instead so wrote them an email asking for the following:

  • An official written decision as to why my application was not accepted.
  • If there is an opportunity to appeal against the decision.
  • Advice and recommendations on a solution on how I can go about to get my application and plans accepted.

I also started that I would now accept all costs required for the document to be produced.

A day later I received the following 5 sided ‘Bescheid’ from the MA63:

bescheid.1.pdf-page-001 bescheid.2.pdf-page-001 bescheid.3.pdf-page-001 bescheid.4.pdf-page-001 bescheid.5.pdf-page-001

I will at one point get round to translating this to make everything a little bit clearer for you all. The gist of it to begin with is that I do not have enough experience from working in a butchers, or that I have not taken the 3 year school leavers apprenticeship (something that they already mentioned had no point in me taking). There do seem to be some suggestions on how I can improve my chances but they are all related into gaining experience into other parts of butchery (something else they had previously mentioned was not worth partaking in). Quite frustrating in the scheme of things, but another good example of what I am up against.

Albeit it the decision was still a no, everything started to make sense when I managed to see it in writing. It felt like I could press on with things and explore other directions of how to get the business started. Offers came in from butcher/charcuterie acquaintances of mine offering me their name and experience in return for a share of the business and I would ‘work’ under them but have free range of what I wanted to do in the ‘shop’. This seems to be the best way to get things running, to start for at least, and perhaps after working ‘under’ them for a few years that will be the relevant experience I need to go solo.

As previously mentioned there is also the potential to even perhaps register the business in the UK and through the EU free trade sector then register the business here in Austria. This however could pose a lot of problems and the idea seems quite a difficult cop out to manage.

A bonus at the moment it seems that bad news always is followed by good news. True to form after about 30 mins after uploading my previous blog post I received a phone call from Florian Holzer who is a food critic and journalist for a number of publications including Falter (http://www.falter.at), Kurier (http://www.kurier.at), just to name a couple. He asked me if he could do an article on my sausages and also write a little bit about the story. I was quite taken back and nervous about the whole procedure, especially as friends had told me about him been ‘the guy’ of all critics and food journalists in Vienna, and was extremely high regarded and appreciated in all food circles. I was aware that he had tried some of my produce before, as someone who took some from me through the Facebook page told me she was going to pass some onto him, but I wasn’t expecting (if at all) some contact so quickly.

We arranged a date and time and Florian arrived with a photographer and spent a good few hours in the apartment taking photos and chatting with me about my story. His enthusiasm about the whole project really gave me another boost of confidence and I was left buzzing that someone had shown so much interest into the project and another part of me started to believe that I was finally starting to get somewhere with everything. I won’t delve too much into the article as it will be in print this week and will no doubt upload it onto the blog!

On top of this, the lovely lady at the Lebenmittelgewerbe has arranged a meeting for me with the Master Butcher of Vienna in a couple of weeks time for me to explain my story to him and to see what advice or suggestions he has for me to get up and running. Perhaps I can even make a practical examination with him to prove I know what I am doing. Slowly but surely and little by little there is some progress being made and hopefully the article in the Falter will also create a little bit of buzz and interest.

So thats where i’m standing right now. Unlike before where I didn’t know where I was going with everything it finally feels like everything is starting to straighten out into different paths for me to choose and go down to succeed. More importantly other people and influential groups are also starting to feel like that as well.

New Year New Fear

Happy New Year!

Apologies for making it a late one and not updating you on the final day of my course just before Christmas. Due to the speed and efficiency in the learning process from the couple of days before, mixed together with the fact I had a pretty long journey home on the Friday before Christmas (including a trip down the M4 to Heathrow getting across London to Liverpool Street, and then another train to Colchester) I was eager to get on the road as quickly as possible on the Friday, with approximately 40kg worth of sausage packed up in various cool bags, and a nice rib of beef, I knew this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable task.

Christmas was again an enjoyable and quiet one in Colchester, and was extremely happy to offload the majority of what I had produced down in Devon to various friends and family, all who gave glowing praise (wouldn’t expect anything else), and I was even more happier that I was finally able to give them a taste of what I had been banging on about for the past couple of years.

After an unfortunate experience in Stuttgart Airport on my way home (I do not recommend the salami roll at gate 144) I was bed ridden for New Years Eve it was a rather quiet one in that respect, but was excited and motivated for the upcoming year and looked forward to applying for my individual qualification, which was then meant to give me the license to actually apply for a business license and therefore starting planning the shop and other ideas.

So with Google translation on one page and the electronic application on the other, I took to the task in hand and actually set about with the application for the “Feststellung der individuellen Befähigung” für “Fleischer (Handwerk), eingeschränkt auf die Erzeugung von britischer Wurst”, translated meaning “an individual qualification for butchery, but limited to British style sausage”, which had previously been agreed by the Lebensmittelgewerbe (see older posts). As there is no official sausage course to be taken in the UK, and therefore no official certificate to be produced, a graphic designer friend of mine knocked me up some makeshift certificates to at least prove if needed that I had attended a course, eventhough it probably would´t hold up in court.

 

meathandlingcertificate

sausagecertificate

 

Along with the above certificates, a scan of my passport, a scan of my proof of residency, and a translated course plan which mapped out what I had previously learnt before Christmas and a covering letter I set about with my application. It was all a bit of a painless experience, apart from the files needing a bit of time to upload which made me wonder if they did actually make it onto the server or not, but took a deep breath and clicked “apply” and hoped for the best. From here onwards I knew it was a waiting game and was expecting the worst (würst?) and was ready to not hear anything until the last day of the 4 week expected waiting time.

Since returning back from the UK after the Xmas period I had also contacted the lovely lady at the Lebensmittelgewerbe just to say I had taken the course was going to apply ASAP for the proof of qualification. Days had passed and I still hadn’t had a response from her and was started to worry a little bit on her silence. Last Monday I was awoken early in the morning by the postman asking me to sign a form to which on receipt handed me a letter, which was obviously an official letter. I opened it with baited breath and was only disappointed for it to be a rather computer generated response from the MA63 (the department dealing with my application) asking me for the following documents:

Proof of High School/College attendance with relevance to the food sector (didn’t think my ‘C’ in GCSE food technology was relevant to include it in the original application!) or any documents which had proved I had taken further education in this (as agreed with the Lebensmittelgewerbe before, the short course I had taken before Christmas was deemed acceptable).

Proof of experience of working in the butchery/meat sector (again as already mentioned, nil, which is what the course was meant to make up for).

Proof of my own business in the butchery/meat sector through company books, registered addresses, tax/business numbers (they obviously ignored the fact that I needed this proof of qualification before I could even register the business – proving this part of the application and request for information pointless and made me wonder if they had actually bothered to read through any of the information I had sent them before.

Now I found this extremely frustrating as I feel I had fully explained everything in the letters and attachments towards my application to make the authorities aware of my situation (no previous official experience, needing the proof of qualification before been able to start-up the business) and felt like they had just glanced through it without giving it 100% thought. They had given me 14 days to respond with the relevant documents, which left me wondering what I could actually send them as with the original application I had exhausted all my proof and sent them all the documents I could actually send.

I decided to contact them immediately and send them an email again explaining the situation a little bit further, and emphasising the points that I previously stated and asking them to phone me as soon as possible so I could even tell them over the phone what the situation was and try to get a clear understanding of what my situation was. This was sent on the same day (Monday 13th) where I also contacted the Lebensmittelgewerbe once more to update them on the situation. Thursday came along and with no response from either party I started to get more frustrated as to what was actually going on. Friday came and this time it was my turn to send a registered letter to them which would arrive first thing on Monday morning, along with printouts of all the documents send in the original electronic application. At least there then could be no excuses for lost emails and such, and they had a hard copy in their hands.

This weekend passed and it came to last night and I started to get nervous and anxious about this morning as I knew that I was likely to get a phone call. Low and behold the phone call came and I was given the bad news that I was expecting. Well to be honest I wasn’t expecting it because up until now I was under the impression had played by everyones rules and done everything I was asked of. But they delivered the news with the excuse that I didn’t have enough experience and if I wanted to do it, I would need to do the 3 years experience that early school leavers have to go through.

One thing which I haven’t explained yet is to do with why I am having so much difficulty and there are so many holes for me to jump through before I can open. It is mainly to protect the school leavers who have put in the 3 years apprenticeship from the age of 15. It was put very bluntly me the other day when I met a sausage casings supplier, and to be honest made a lot of sense.

Imagine leaving school at 15, going straight into an apprenticeship which perhaps you are not entirely keen on and after 3 years completing the course and then having the skills and paperwork to go on and find yourself a job in the industry. Then there is someone coming along from the EU and just opening shop just like that, without the experience or having to perhaps perform the worst jobs in the industry just to get the skills and licenses needed to go on and form a career. This is why the rules have been so stringent and so tight as to let me do my own thing. The fact that I only want to concentrate on one type of butchery doesn’t make any difference at all. It makes sense to me a little bit and I started to have a little bit of sympathy for teenagers who did put in the effort. But then what frustrated me is how are small enterprises such as mine (I’m sure it’s not just butchers which have to go through this) expected to form and grow when things are so tough? Why is Austria still stuck 20 years behind everyone else? It was even mentioned that out of the whole EU, Austria & Germany are the only countries where now you still have to have such experience before opening your own place. Now i’m all for experience and training, but a 3 years apprenticeship with some grumpy teenagers just for me to make British style sausages? Those who know me can imagine my response.

Back to the conversation from this morning. It was deemed that I had not the relevant experience for me to gain the certificate needed to register the business, and the only way which I could get it is to do my 3 years service. In my worst, broken, tired, desperate German I explained that I was born and lived in the UK for 22 years where such programs didn’t exist and were not needed to start up such enterprises. I did start to feet a general bit of sympathy from whoever it was on the phone (I stupidly didn’t catch the name, likelihood that I was too nervous trying to concentrate on the matter in hand) on them having to let me down on my current plans, but I left the phone call saying “thank you” (typically English, why should I thank them for letting me down and ruining my plans?) and went to work on getting together some plan B’s, C’s and D’s.

There are couple of ways which I can now possibly turn to. First of all I will write to the authorities and ask them for written confirmation of their decision and what I can do to fix it. I will also launch an appeal of the decision and perhaps see if I can arrange a meeting with the head butcher of Vienna to prove my competence and then get a recommendation from him to change their minds and show that I know what I am doing. Marc-Frederic of whom I took the course with in December has kindly offered me his services and to perform such a ‘partnership’ where I would work under his name, and there is even the possibility of registering the business in the UK and then opening a branch over here and due to the EU free trade I shouldn’t have any problems at all (i’m willing to bet a high amount of money that I do). The latter was even suggested by the Lebensmittelgewerbe Minister, as backwards and crude as it may seem. There’s a lot running through my head at the moment and am currently trying to find the best solution, and am welcome to any offers or suggestions (in exchange for sausages!).

I must also add that whilst writing this post I finally got a response from the Lebensmittelgewerbe who in the beginning were very supportive and pointed me in the direction of the MA63 (the authority dealing with my application) but recently were silent. It seems that they are still very much behind the idea and on Friday spoke to the MA63 and said that that the course I took in the UK could be enough, because I only want to produce one type of sausage (the British banger). She also said that she hadn’t received a request for me to have this meeting with the head butcher of Vienna. The email was left saying that person in charge of my request at the MA63 was going to discuss the application with her boss. Obviously now I know the decision, but I can take from this that they are still on my side, and will push this subject further in my appeal.

So thats where everything stands at the moment. I’m currently experiencing a flourish of followers and communities on Facebook so if the Britwurst page has brought you here welcome and thank you! I’m trying to produce every weekend and dish out as many samples as possible, the last being Cumberland were well received and the praise as well as criticism was definitely appreciated. Please do not be afraid to ask, i’m grateful for any enquiry!

Feeling slightly gutted (nothing a couple of beers later won’t sort out) but with a fire in my stomach to march onwards and fight for what I want to do, I don’t see this hindrance as a major blow, just a small cog in some rusty works.

I will succeed and I will be open by September!!!

The strongest link

With what I learnt yesterday running round my head when I woke up this morning, I couldn’t wait to get to grips with what I was going to learn today. Today was after all the whole creation of the sausage itself, from the mincing of the meat we prepared yesterday, to the seasoning selection and mixing and then the stuffing, linkage and post prep (hanging, storage).

After mincing the meat from yesterday we let it rest in the fridge which gave us the opportunity to go and visit a lovely farm shop close to Exeter. This was more than a farm shop to me and resembled something similar to Fortnum & Masons which I finally got round to visiting in the summer. The selection of meats, cheeses, and fish was unbelievable and my eyes couldn’t control themselves from wandering in different directions at the chutneys, mustards, along with other condiments and goodies available.

On our return we started the afternoon off by deciding which sausages to make. We decided on a cumberland, basic pork, pork and apricot and also a pork and leek. I had never worked with the quantities or weights we were working with and was looking forward to producing a high amount to see what it was like to handle and to see how easy or difficult it was.

Due to the size of the equipment we were using I found the task in hand a whole lot easier than if I was to be doing it in the kitchen at home, and with the patient guidance of Marc I was shown a few techniques and introduced to different skills that I was unaware of. I was grateful to learn how to reduce the amount of rusk I was using as that had been a major bug of of mine as people had been saying that that there was slightly a hint too much of a bread taste within the sausage and we managed to reduce this by more than half. It was nice to use a horizontal stuffer as well, and this is definitely the next item I will be purchasing as it was so much easier to use than the vertical one I am currently using.

After mixing the sausage and then stuffing them we then got onto linking, something which I had only read in guides before and turned a blind eye to as it looked far too difficult and confusing from the diagrams. When I was been shown the process Marc made it look like a piece of cake, and I knew with my co-ordination that I was going to struggle as soon as it was my time to do it. So when I was given the reigns I panicked but with Marcs saintly patience I was guided in the correct way and over time and practice felt like at the end of the session I had picked up a new skill I would’ve never of thought I would be able to learn otherwise. Over the amount of YouTube videos or books I have read on the subject I have never felt any hope of doing it and after practicing it a few times I felt like I had the hang of it. Time over matter is obviously the skill in this and the slower I concentrated on it the more confident I became. We shall however see how tomorrow goes, our final day of production and see if I can still remember what I have learnt today!

One thing I have noticed over the past couple of days is a massive boost of confidence. Something which I usually lack on and refuse to accept is that I can actually be good at this. From what I have learnt, and with what I have practiced i’m finally starting to feel a whole lot more comfortable with the task about I have set myself. It’s almost starting to become exciting.

I think it’s time for a #letspushthingsforward !!!

You pig!!!

With my brain going round in circles from todays activities I am not entirely sure where to start with todays post. All I can say is that I have been fully introduced to the world of pig butchery and sausage making this has only confirmed already love with it.

After a horrible nights sleep with vivid dreams and waking myself up screaming (not sure if that was the cheese sandwich before bed, the new location I am currently staying in for the next few days, or the stress of actually arriving here and what I was going to endure) I appreciated the late start of 09:00. A 10 hour (albeit broken) sleep made things slightly easier and when I finally woke up I started to feel excited about what I was going to learn.

Marc-Frederic and his family were so welcoming into their home at the end of the day I started to feel like part of the furniture! I was clueless on how the day was going to start and still being a little tired I was relieved to hear that we would be spending the morning on the road, travelling to an ingredients supplier, an abattoir to pick up a pig carcass, and on the way back stopping off at a few farm shops for some inspiration on produce for myself & Britwurst. This was a small but welcoming shock for myself as I didn’t realise I would end up splitting a pig throughout the course of these few days and was excited and intrigued about the task in hand.

With the pig back at home and me feeling quite overwhelmed but excited with the whole prospect, Marc patiently guided me through the first half of the carcass, breaking it down into 3 parts, explaining what we do and don’t keep and why and then from there boning it out into relevant parts before skinning them and preparing them for mincing, which will happen tomorrow. For the first time in over 10 years I really started to feel like I was learning a proper skill, and with that extra confidence, the feeling was comforting to know that I still had something left inside of me wanting to learn, and finding all of this out starting getting me even more excited about the prospects of Britwurst ahead of me.

I think this is good enough proof on how happy I was:

photo 2
The plan for tomorrow is as follows:

Day 2:

Ingredient selection

  • Which ingredients do which jobs in sausage making.
  • Correct % of salts and non-chemical preservatives in sausage making.
  • Which ingredients are used to bind sausage meat.
  • Which herbs and spices work best together.
  • Introduction to basic sausage recipes.
  • Differences in regional recipes.

Preparation of sausage meat

  • Use of meat mincer to create sausage meat.
  • Correct way to mix sausage meat with other ingredients/spices/herbs.
  • Preparation of sausage casings.
  • Stuffing of sausage meat into sausage casings.
  • Linkage of final sausage product.

And if it is to go by anything which I have learnt today, then I can not wait, and can not wait to get going!

Fine tuning…

So when I should be sleeping on this BA699 to London from Vienna, i’ve taken the opportunity to write a quick update on current events. Once landed I still have a 3 hour drive ahead of me, so instead of me sitting in a tiny room above a pub in the middle of nowhere, Devon, where I have booked myself in for the next few days, and will be most likely be clicking the ‘post’ button from, try imagine my non-existent jet set lifestyle instead in the meantime.

Following on from what I have posted before, the whole point of me going back to the UK is not just for Christmas, but also a chance for me to spend a few days in the countryside fine tuning my sausage making skills to impress the Food Standards agency et al back in Vienna.

For those that are interested I will try to post every day over the following days with tales of what I have learnt, not only for a reference for myself, but also something entertaining to the few and far between who read this.

The plan for tomorrow is as follows:

Introduction to different cuts of meat

• Which parts of the animal are used in sausages making and why.
• Learning of different parts of a carcass of a pig.
• Ways of how to use up every part of a pig in sausage making.

Proper use of equipment

• Introduction to pieces of equipment which are used in sausage making and preparation of equipment.
• Learning of which equipment is better for which type of sausage.
• Health and safety when using machines.

General kitchen hygiene

• Introduction to kitchen hygiene and sausage making.
• Correct temperatures for sausage making and meat preparation.
• Ways to prevent accidents happening in the kitchen.
• Correct kitchen/preparation attire.

Knife skills/preparation of meat

• Which knives do which jobs in meat preparation.
• Knife sharpening.
• Knife care & protection.
• Skinning and preparation of a shoulder and belly of pork.
• Accident prevention.

Understandably the majority of the above seem pretty straight forward and a few of you might be shocked to read that perhaps I don’t already know these basic points. The plan I created for this course is not only to make sure I have every box ticked personally, and that I can stride on in confidence in New Year on my return to Vienna, but also to please the relevant authorities and officials who hopefully will also find my ways competent enough and issue me the “Feststellung der individuellen Befähigung” (“Determination of individual qualification”) which will then give me the opportunity to apply for a business license.

With this upcoming training ahead of me, I finally feel like I am slowly starting to get somewhere. Albeit still at a snails pace there is some progress being made. I am slowly creeping into the Expat scene in Vienna, something which has always made me cringe, as for some reason I have only really connected with a handful of Brits since I moved here 7 years ago, and am looking forward to hopefully meeting a few more through these various connections.

I still find myself getting anxious about the business side of things though, which means I still haven’t taken a proper look at the dreaded business plan or even flicked through all the documents the Chamber of Commerce gave me when I met with them on the subject of setting up your own business and how to deal with taxes etc. There are some day courses that I can attend which I stupidly ignored a couple of years ago, but these only happen once in a while, so I hope in the first few months of 2014 they will be running them again and I will be able to find the information I need. Whenever anyone starts talking about taxes it seems to go in one ear and come out the other. Its such a long time (10 years) since i’ve been in such a classroom/study atmosphere that even just trying to write this is sometimes difficult enough, and find myself getting distracted at any given opportunity.

Feedback from others on my produce is once again positive and even friends have said it’s too hard to criticise because “it is just too good”. Perhaps a group product review/taste session with 4 or 5 random people is required, because as much as I thrive on praise (eventhough I find it difficult to accept), I thrive on criticism even further and in that sense try to be a perfectionist. There have even been times that after creating almost 100 links worth of sausage I wasn’t happy with the final result so they all got thrown away. Call that a bit prima donna of me, but that just seems to be how I work and run by the rule of if that I am not happy with it, and if I would not eat it, why should I inflict that feeling onto someone else? Hopefully the next few days will iron out any issues or doubts I currently have in my creative side.

Looking forward to updating you all with my learnings and findings!

Onwards & Upwards…

So again it seems like I have neglected my duties to keep you informed of what is actually going on in the world of Britwurst et al.

For future reference, a good way to get me blogging is to keep throwing questions at me such as “so hows the sausages going then” or “whats up with your business plans then” as, to be frank (and i’m not entirely sure why) I detest talking about it in person, and whilst writing everything down and then spamming it all over the internet is perhaps not the most sociable way of keeping you all up to date, it is a way where I can get everything down in black and white and for (whoever you may be) to read it.

Things are however taking a turn for the good and positive. My last post references a meeting with Marc Frederic Berry, aka Le Charcutier Anglais, a well known figure within the trade. The subject of the meeting was that I would like him to tutor me and put any doubt I currently have in my skills to rest and bring me up to a level of producing I feel comfortable with.

This meeting was a great success and he agreed to take me on for a few days of 1 on 1 training during the week before Xmas. Perfect timing for myself as it meant I could also celebrate Christmas at home afterwards, something which in recent years has not been possible. As previously blogged I was hoping for perhaps a 2 week “learn everything at once” style course but we decided that it would be better for me to learn in stages, and everything a bit more slowly and surely. Hence this time I will just be visiting Marc for 3 days, to get the basics under my belt. Perhaps in combination with another trip back to the UK next year I will be able to spend a couple of more days learning a different part of the Charcuterie world. Not only has Marc given me some insight to the actual production side of things, during our chat he also gave me some sound business advice as well. We left with the premise that I would write a tailor made plan of what I would like to learn, get it signed off by the Food Standards Agency over here in Vienna and then go off and get the learning and practical work done! And thats where we stand now!

On the business side of things, after doing a bit of deeper digging onto how to how to get the business license it is now been revealed that the official qualification I need is “Feststellung der individuellen Befähigung” which means the “Determination of individual qualification”. With this certificate I will then in future be able to register the business. After completion of the practical work before Christmas I will then in the New Year organise a meeting with the head butcher of Vienna and also the Food Standards Agency who are then likely to quiz me on a few butchery/sausage subjects and then perhaps even ask for a practical examination. On their recommendation I will then apply for the “Feststellung der individuellen Befähigung” who then also have to see fit that I am able to hold my own and carry on with the business. I have briefly touched on this procedure in my previous posts so for more information on that side of things feel free to scroll down.

The past couple of months have also seen me produce and host my first ‘catering’ (lets use that term loosely for now) job for the opening of a friends new high end independent stationary & book store here in Vienna (http://www.sous-bois.at). It was a huge success and was almost taken back by the amount of people who were impressed with my wares. On the menu was:

Pigs in blankets
Apricots in blankets
Creole style sausages
Rillettes du porc
Bacon jam
Porchetta with a salsa verde
Tomato pâté

Champagne & strawberry cheesecake
Chocolate & pistachio fudge

Cheese board consisting of Cave-Aged Cheddar, Richard III Wensleydale, Martells Double Gloucester & Kirkhams Lancashire, all supplied by the lovely Sally of British Cheese Emporium based in Leverkusen, Germany (http://www.britishcheese.de).

All in all it was quite stressful for me and although it was a success felt that there were a lot of things I needed to learn and expect for the next time I ventured into the world of such ideas. Time planning and scheduling played a big part, and eventhough I was only 30 mins late to the shop setting up, this in end was the reason I hardly got any pictures of the event as I was too busy in the kitchen, and also why (and perhaps you can see from the few pictures below) there was more of a “self service” feel to it than I perhaps wanted. Anyway, all plates, bottles, jars were empty at the end and that in my eyes were a success. I look forward to doing something similar hopefully soon, as it was extremely enjoyable!

 

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One of the biggest problems I had with the catering event though was receiving praise and positive comments for what I had achieved, and the actual food itself. People were praising myself and the food on every possible occasion. At one point I even hid in the kitchen just to avoid it and having to hear it. This is perhaps something I need to work on, but for me I find it ridiculous for someone to comment on the fudge saying it was the best they had ever eaten where all I know is that I had melted down some Lindt chocolate and some butter together with some condensed milk and then added some pistachios then let it set in the fridge overnight. Their praise for my 20 mins of work doesn’t seem justified and almost embarrasses me to accept it. It was, I guess, a relief that people enjoyed it and didn’t turn their noses up at it or anything, but perhaps i’m too much of an perfectionist to really grasp it yet. I hope that after my upcoming tutoring my confidence in myself will improve but at the moment it is one of my biggest downfalls. Stop being so nice to me!!!

With no more catering jobs coming up and a break in production before the Christmas period I hope to finally crack open the dreaded business plan and read through that again and start making the various financial decisions I need to get the start up amounts reduced. This isn’t going to be easy as i’m a bit of a spendthrift and only want the best things! However, i’ve finally set the target that Britwurst will be open and running by the 3rd September 2014 as this is when I will hit the big 30, so this has really given me the kick I need to start embracing the whole idea.

So, thats it for now, if I see you in person and I know you’ve read this (and believe me I will know) and you ask me “how is business going” I hope I have your permission to bypass the question!

Catch up with you soon.

Rich.

Little by little

“de·vel·op·ment

[/diˈveləpmənt/]

n.

The process of developing or being developed.”

After getting over the last post where perhaps I was a little too strong on emphasising how upset I was with someone ‘using’ my well thought out, almost perfect name, the feelings are obviously still there, but don’t worry, this isn’t another rant about that.

Before leaving the subject though, I will just mention that the said party after agreeing to change to Brit-würst Brussels still haven’t kept their word to change their name, and leave no disclaimer as to the non-affliation with me. Due to the size of both companies and set ups at the moment, this isn’t a big issue, but personally I am a man of my word, and expect people to be the same.

Things are however starting to slowly but surely progress. One of the biggest worries was that for me to actually open the doors on a deli over here, selling fresh meat and produce, would be that I would have to take a butchers course for a minimum of 3 years, to prove that I was competent in the whole subject field.

The WKO (Wirtschaftkammer/Chamber of Commerce) have been extremely helpful and put me in all the right directions. After finally taking the plunge and going to meet them to find out my future, and whether I did actually have to do this dreaded 3 years, I was half put in my place, and in a positive way.

I was advised that due to a small loophole in the system it meant that because I just want to sell sausages/fresh produce I do not have to spend the 3 years as previously thought doing a an apprenticeship with a butcher in Vienna, or go to a vocational college and study part time for 3 years learning the ways and rules of butchery. My advisor wasn’t exactly sure what the best route for me to go down was, so put me in contact with the Lebensmittelgewerbe (Food Standards Agency). He was however, extremely helpful in discussing the best terms and ways for me to set up the business, full of information, full of interest, and happy to help whenever needed, a big thumbs up from me, and to Austria.

With booklets, pamphlets, binders in hand full of information to help me on my way on the business side of things, I got in contact with the Food Standards Agency asking if we could arrange a meeting to discuss things. In the first week of August I was told that the Minister for Food was away on holiday until the beginning of September, which originally I found frustrating as I was ready to go, full steam ahead, all guns blazing. Expecting to arrange a meeting towards the end of September, I was informed that he would be able to see me on the 2nd, first thing in the morning. The 2nd was a Monday, the first day he was able to see me after returning from holiday, so once again my usual negative thoughts about the whole Austrian bureaucratic system were once again proved wrong and was extremely happy, albeit somewhat nervous that I would run into problems again, and for them to tell me that I would need at least a years ‘service’ in the industry before I was allowed to do anything.

Monday 2nd came and as I put on my Sunday best in the morning running through all the questions I should ask, having a slight nervous sick-to-the-stomach feeling that it could be the end of the whole project, I made my way to the Food Standards Agency office, which turned out to be a grand building in the middle of Vienna. Nerves followed, sweaty handshakes were exchanged, and I took a seat in the Ministers office, only to notice that I had odd socks on. This was actually the least of my worries as he came in with his assistant and closed the door.

After a very informal, friendly chat, with me dribbling out all of the blurb I had prepared in my head all at once, without pause, and probably too fast for him to fully understand, in 2 different languages (mixed English and Deutsch), we came to some sort of understanding and plan:

1. Instead of spending the time in Austria learning how to make sausages, go back to the UK and do it there. Thinking about it makes sense, as there is no point learning how to make Germanic style ‘würst’ when I want to play around with a typical English banger. Before I would even be able to go back to the UK though, I would need to provide the Health Minister with a plan of action, translated into German for him to sign off and agree that what I would be learning in England be sufficient for me to come back to Austria with.

2. Once back in Austria I would need to do a practical examination with the head butcher of Austria to show what I have learnt in the UK, to prove him that I am capable of my wares and that I am proficient enough in sausage making, and meat handling.

3. Once the head butcher has passed me and is happy with what I have learnt, I would need to go to the Chamber of Commerce again with my business plan showing what I will exactly be doing in the deli and what my plan of actions are. Once they are happy with what I will be doing and give me the green light I am then (finally) able to register the business and get the certificate required proving who I am and what I will be doing. With the business registered, I am able to open shop officially, and legally. There are however a couple of other authorities I would need to visit, pending the opening of the deli, but these are straight forward regular visits which I knew I would have to do.

Yes, it sounds like a long drawn out situation, but it’s something I was prepared for, and is even something I can do in the next 3 – 4 months. My first (and obvious) choice to make the plan and do the learning process and training from is ‘Le Charcutier Anglais’, Marc-Frederic Berry (@MarcFrederic on Twitter). With his knowledge, experience, and popularity within the ‘meat’ scene in the UK I think that I could not learn from a better person. We have a meeting coming up in a couple of days (I am currently on a 2 week holiday back in the UK) to hopefully sort things out and fix a date in the near future when I can start getting the plan together and submitting it to the Health Minister. He said that he would like me to do a months training and learning, but I feel I can learn what I need to learn within 2 weeks, so this is the target I am going for. If however he doesn’t agree and thinks it should be longer, then so be it, I have to play by his rules, and am well aware of that.

The positive side of going to study and learn over in the UK is that it should also hopefully iron out any creases in my producing which I might have. I am not 100% confident of my skills at the moment, and the time with Marc should put any worries or insecurities in myself to rest. Apart from that it’s not just sausages I will be producing in the deli, there will also be bacons, salamis, hams, and other cured delights, smoked, as well as unsmoked. Doing such things in the middle of a city (especially smoking food) could prove to be quite a challenge, so hopefully I will be able to learn some techniques to get around this.

A brief respite back home from everything in Vienna has also given me the chance to sample local wares to perhaps also stock in the deli. Before coming over I had a successful meeting with the Tiptree Jams/Wilkins & Sons distributor in Vienna, but unfortunately their prices seem to be a little too high for me. Time will tell though, and on return to Vienna I will look out some other stores which stock their produce to see what the general RRP seems to be. Alcohol will obviously play an important part in the deli and will also look forward to meeting a few drink distributors once back in Vienna as well. Lets just say the sampling of potential ales and beers has so far been extremely enjoyable!

So thats where I am up to at the moment. There is still the business plan waiting to be opened and read through and edited for what feels like the millionth time but at least this time it will feel like I am doing it for a reason. Previous times I have written it not knowing what the future will hold, with regards to potential 3 years butchery, 1 year full time course which could be thrown at me, or just a simple ‘no’ and a closed door and the end of my dream. This time it feels like I will be using it for an actual purpose.

Lets push things forward!