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New Zealand's top butchers announced

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

James Smith from PAK’nSAVE, Pukekohe has won the prestigious Alto Young Butcher of the Year title, Blair Wright from Peter Timbs Meats in Christchurch was crowned ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice and Rob Lees from Warkworth Butchery took out the Pure South Master Butcher title in the grand final which was streamed live to the industry this evening from the ASB Showgrounds in Auckland.

James Smith, one of the pre-competition favourites and a Hellers Sharp Black, was delighted with his win. "There’s been a lot of stress and hard work on my part to get here. I’ve been in a lot of competitions over the years, so I am really pleased to finally take out the title."

Finalists were chosen in September following five tightly fought regional competitions in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, involving over 40 competitors. The six young butchers and six apprentices in the two categories went head-to-head today in a spectacular battle of the butchers that saw knives flashing, bandsaws humming and mincers grinding.

The two-hour cutting test required competitors to keep their nerve and showcase their expertise in front of a team of eight judges. Both the Alto Young Butcher competitors and the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentices were tasked with breaking down a size 20 chicken, a whole pork leg, a beef short loin, and one mystery cut, a lamb forequarter, into a display of value-added products.

In addition to this, the apprentices were also expected to complete a 30 question, multiple choice exam and an interview with the judges as part of their route to glory.

The Pure South Master Butcher competition was open to all qualified butchers 31 years and older. This category saw six of New Zealand’s master butchers battle it out on their own pitch, giving the Alto Young Butchers a more level playing field. Competitors in this category had two hours to break down a beef banjo and a whole lamb and impress the judges with their value-added display.

Rob Lees, who only agreed to enter the competition in a deal with his apprentice, was pleased he took home the whopping $3,500 cash prize.

"You’ve got to back yourself in these competitions, but I am definitely surprised to have won. It’s taken a lot of practice, but it’s gone smoothly tonight. I’ve really enjoyed the experience."

At the other end of the spectrum, the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice category provides an invaluable opportunity for those just starting out in the industry.

This was highlighted today by Blair Wright of Peter Timbs Meats in Christchruch who was the youngest competitor on show today, having only just turned 19. "It’s awesome I’ve won, I’m totally blown away. I’ve put in hours of practice, repetition was key to get everything perfect."

Head Judge Peter Martin, butchery manager of Fresh Choice in Cromwell, is a strong advocate of butchery competitions.

"I’ve been to all the regionals and I’ve seen passion for the industry and hunger from individuals. That passion - and the skills they possess - shines through and shows in the displays produced tonight. It actually makes judging not very fun because of how difficult it is to decide a winner."

Alongside Peter Martin on the judging panel was:

- Alana Empson from Foodstuffs North Island

- Peter Farrelly from Wilson Hellaby

- Corey Winder, Captain of the Hellers Sharp Blacks team and from Elite Meats Bush Inn

- Jeremy Garth, a member of the Hellers Sharp Blacks team and from New World Ferry Road

- Brian Everton from Cabernet Foods

As well as industry and peer recognition, the winning Alto Young Butcher and ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year receive a coveted trophy and a study tour. The Pure South Master Butcher of the Year received a trophy and a $3,500 cash prize.

The competition is proudly sponsored by Alto Packaging, ANZCO Foods, Pure South, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Competenz, Dunninghams, Hellers, Tegel and Wilson Hellaby.

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