When customers approach Mikalah Stevens and ask to speak to the butcher, few realise they are talking to one of the most promising butchers in New Zealand.
Stevens said she is used to it by now, but often the New World Foxton customers are taken by surprise when she tells them 'You're speaking to her', as the 22-year-old perhaps doesn't fit the stereotypical mould of a traditional Kiwi meat carver.
"Yeah, sometimes they ask if they can please speak to the butcher," although it didn't bother her, she said.
Stevens' hard work and skill is helping to break down common preconceptions by gaining kudos at a national level through competition as she attempts to make the finals of the 2019 Alto Butcher and ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year.
Those results at national level were helping to create a new image of what a butcher should be. She said generally females made good butchers.
"It's a real art and you can never know it all. Generally females are a bit more picky and do smaller cuts, not great big dinosaur cuts," she said.
Stevens left school to work at the local chicken farm before taking up a job at the local abattoir. From there she found herself following a career as a butcher and now has the chance to represent New Zealand one day.
She said it was her dream to make the Sharp Blacks, a New Zealand team that competes in world events, the next being a 2020 competition in California.
Stevens said she was brought up in a hunting and farming environment. Her favourite cut was an eye fillet as it had very little fat, while her favourite sausage was beef, cracked pepper and cheese.
She was proving to be a dominant force at regional level as it was her third straight victory in a lower North Island event, a two-hour test to win the right to contest the 2019 Alto Butcher and ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year finals.
It was the second regional competition in the national series leading to the finals in Auckland in August 8, the highlight of the year for the industry, culminating in a glitzy dinner.
The regionals were a close call, with Stevens claiming first spot ahead of Simon Dixon from Island Bay Butchery.
The competition involved the butchers breaking down a size 16 chicken, a boneless beef rump and a full pork loin into a display of value-added products.
"I'm really pleased to have won this regional again. I've been practising every week, working on my attention to detail and organisation which I think has really helped me against the other competitors, who were really good," she said.
"For the final I need to keep focusing on my speed and there were a few things I know I mucked up, so I can go away and work on these."
Stevens was due to graduate next year and would set her sights on the Butcher of the Year title.
Dixon and Stevens will now continue on to the Grand Final, on Thursday August 8 in Auckland, where they will further showcase their cutting skills, creativity and knowledge of the trade against the best in the country.
Head judge and Sharp Blacks captain Corey Winder had been involved in the competition for 20 years now and says the skills needed to become a great butcher are growing.
"It's inspirational to see so many apprentices and butchers showing up at competition level. It not only increases their skill set and gives them the opportunity to network with their peers, but gives them the confidence to look to the future and the possibility of one day competing at an International Level at the World Butchers' Challenge," he said.
"To have the motivation and drive to showcase their skills at this level means the New Zealand butchery industry is in good hands with plenty of candidates setting their sights on becoming a member of the New Zealand butchery team, the Hellers Sharp Blacks, in the future."