Practice makes perfect: Artisanal butcher shares his life long obsession with the trade

All images via Damien Nikora
Dave Rossiter, owner of Westmere Butchery, has been in the meat trade for 42 years after landing a job as a butcher to earn some pocket money during his school boy in London. Twenty years later, having worked his way around the world, Rossiter settled in New Zealand to continue the legacy of a butchery that began in the 1920s.

It was 18 years ago Rossiter brought Westmere, after working there for a year, and during that time he has come to learn that Kiwis just can’t get enough of sausages. He says the butchery sells three tonnes of sausages a week, on average, with the Summer months providing peak sales.

However, it’s not just the Kiwi classics Westmere offers. The meat range includes South African delicacies, including biltong and boerewors, and English and Scottish favourites like black pudding, Cornish pastries and haggis, a tip of the hat to Rossiter’s past.

He describes himself as a nomad, having moved to Rhodesia from London, and then to South Africa and New Zealand.

“I wanted to get out of Britain, it’s great for a holiday but who wants to live there? And then we moved to Rhodesia in Zimbabwe, then we moved due to political reasons to South Africa and we left there again for political reasons and to have a better upbringing for our kids.”

Rossiter says there is a large community of expats like his own family, all of whom enjoy the chance to taste their home country. However, he adds, the meat’s popularity is also shared with Kiwi’s who have seen the world.

“Everybody's travelled, everyone's tried something from around the world so they all want to sort of get something to remind them of their holidays.”

Having lived here for two decades now, Rossiter appears to have become a true Kiwi, having answered with “it’s always got to be steak” when asked what his favourite is.

“T-bone is my favourite, not that I can finish one now. I used to be able to finish one quite easy but I’m very challenged now.”

No matter what variety of meat, everything Westmere sells is cut and made on site by 10 butchers and their years of experience.

Anyone can cut and sell meat, but not everyone knows how to make the most of a product according to Rossiter. Comparing himself to a baker he says, “anybody can make bread but making a good loaf is not easy”.

“You have to have experience, it doesn’t just come to you out of the blue. You have to train, keep your eyes open, listen to what other people have to say about bits and pieces and never be too humble or too proud to learn because there is always something. And always be diligent in what you do.”

It’s this knowledge that Rossiter and his team pass onto Westmere’s apprentices as a way of keeping the industry going and and keeping people interested. However, Rossiter says the apprentices aren’t the only ones learning lessons. When young butchers come in, they bring with them new skills for the team to learn which is what Rossiter says improves the practice and the business.

“Well you never know everything, as soon as you know everything well you don’t know anything do ya?”

It’s this attitude which has no doubt contributed to the success of Westmere Butchery and the number of accolades it has to trumpet. Westmere has been voted the Best Butcher in Auckland by Metro magazine various times, and its sausages, ham and bacon have also taken out numerous competitions.

Rossiter not only credits the awards to the hard work and input from the staff, he also thanks other butcheries for providing some healthy competition.

“If they weren’t striving to improve their butcher shop year in year out, maybe we’d lag back a wee bit, so we know we’ve got to be on top of our game all the time.”

As well as out-performing the competition, Rossiter is always thinking about how Westmere can be better than the last year as a means of producing top quality products, something he wants to see the butchery continue to do even when he leaves.

When asked what his goals are for the future, Rossiter’s first thoughts go to his family, and the hopes he will see them all happy.

With his son a tattoo artist, and his daughter only ever working in the butcher when she was at school, he says the business will be passed on to one of the current employees, just as it was to him, so it can continue its long legacy.

“I'd just like to see the business carry on when I retire if I sell the business on….I’d just like to see it go onwards and upwards.”