The big smoke

Countryman

When Anthony Batticci first thought of the idea behind Holy Smoke Enterprises in Manjimup, he admits he had no money and little in the way of a solid plan. He simply envisaged a smoke house that people could visit, set among the Karri trees.

Little did he know, it would turn out to be a much bigger job than what he thought it would be.

Anthony, who was brought up in Melbourne, has worked in hospitality in Australia and overseas, but it was not until 2000 that he made the move to Pemberton. At the time, he was working in Canada and living in a one-room apartment with 12 New Zealanders.

"I got a letter from my sister, who is a member of the Holy Spirit of Freedom Community, inviting me to live with her in a Christian Centre in Pemberton," he said. "I returned to Australia and moved to Pemberton. Eventually, I joined the community."

The Christian Centre offers short-term accommodation to people from all walks of life.

"Every now and then, I come across a young person wanting change, but they have no family or support structure to get started. Without education, and often with low self-esteem and a drugs or alcohol dependency, they have little hope of getting on," Anthony said.

"Early on, we employed several of these young people, hoping work would give them dignity and an anchor in life. It did help for the short term, however, we found that work was only one part of the process. They needed to deal with their emotional and psychological issues as well.

"Our vision is to be able to employ these young people and then to support them with a holistic approach that targets not only the physical aspects of life but also the emotional, psychological and spiritual. Having a supportive workplace with people to work beside them is part of this process.

"At this point, we are not big enough to be able to do this, but as we grow we hope to be able to see the fruition of this vision."

_A business is born _

After fielding questions from tourists asking where they could buy smoked trout in Pemberton, Anthony and wife Marcelle saw an opportunity. They decided to develop a smoke house business, but it was not a fast process.

"I was doing casual work while I studied the smoking process," Anthony said.

"I received help from the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (a government program that provides assistance to people starting a small businesses) and a few friends made donations to pay for start-up costs.

"One day, Gary Bendotti, who runs the Bendotti Chip Processing Factory in Manjimup, said, 'I have just the place for you'."

Gary was talking about the former apple juicing plant in Manjimup. The Shire's environmental health officer inspected the building and agreed it would be suitable when it was cleaned up.

"We set the business up and I learnt as I went along," Anthony said. "I leased the building from the Bendottis and bought my first smoker for $500."

The smoke generator is an electric hot plate. Sawdust smoulders on the plate and the smoke is drawn by a fan into the smoking oven.

"One of the local butchers sold up, so I bought some second-hand equipment, including a sausage filler that I use to fill pâté jars. I also found a second-hand cool room in Perth that I dismantled and rebuilt on-site," Anthony said.

"My first product was smoked trout pâté. My initial attempts at smoking were a disaster, because I tried to copy the pictures on the internet. After each attempt, I would end up with a pile of dead fish on the floor of the smoker."

_A learning curve _

Helen Love, from Shamrock Restaurant in Pemberton, taught Anthony about the smoking process.

"The hardest part is getting a consistent appearance. Smoke varies depending on air humidity and barometric pressure," Anthony said.

The next product was smoked trout, followed by smoked chicken and smoked chicken pâté. Anthony continued to develop new products and as the business grew, he spent much of his time travelling to Perth and the South West developing markets.

He also continued to pick up pieces of used equipment and refurbish them.

"We aim to use WA produce where possible, and have recently jumped across to Mt Barker chicken. We also use free range Plantagenet pork," Anthony said.

However, sourcing WA trout can be tricky, because the water warms up quickly and all the fish need to be harvested at once.

"As the water warms up, the oxygen levels drop too low for the trout. Over east, the snow runoff helps to keep the water cold," Anthony said.

Each year, the business uses through five tonnes of trout, more than 10 tonnes of chicken and 2.5 tonnes of salmon.

As a general rule, the product is soaked in brine for 24 hours, then dried and smoked for up to eight hours. It involves a lot of manual handling.

IGA stocks Holy Smoke's products, and the range is also sold throughout Perth and the South West through independent outlets. The whole range of products, as well as products from South West producers, is also sold through Holy Smoke's gourmet food shop in Pemberton.

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