Growing up in Kihikihi and going to the local primary school and Te Awamutu Intermediate and College, Brad Gillespie had no intention of following in his dad Ken's footsteps and becoming a butcher.

Brad left school and was working in McDonald's.

"One day I realised I was sick of that job and I asked dad if I could work for him," says Brad.

"His reply was yes, but only if I did an apprenticeship.

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"I haven't looked back," says Brad, who was judged 2019 Alto Young Butcher of the Year and runner-up in the open competition to experienced butcher, competitor and Hellers Sharp Black Greg Egerton.

Ken was a legend in Ohaupo, operating and trading from Fields Butchery for 26 years in a premises that had been exclusively a butcher's shop since 1882.

Four years ago that changed when he and wife Janette were offered a chance to sell — not something they had been contemplating, but the price was generous and it gave the Kihikihi couple an opportunity to make a change in their lives.

Before shutting the doors Ken had passed on his knowledge and skills to his son — 'then he kicked me out' says Brad.

"I actually think he was telling me to get out into the world and get some experience," says Brad.

Brad moved on to work at Raglan's local butchery for a year then won a job at New World Rototuna.

A little over a year ago Brad was promoted to manager of the New World Rototuna butchery and seafood department.

He began competing four years ago — encouraged by store owner Suresh Chimanlal.
"My boss has been great," he says. "He believes the competition helps us to be better butchers and he gives us incentives to give it a go.

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"One bonus is if we compete he buys the table of product we make and gives it to us to fill our home freezer."

The Retail Meats NZ national competitions starts with butchers from around the country competing at four regional events for Senior, Young and Apprentice titles.

Butchers have a set amount of time to start with a selection of cuts which they turn into value-added products, and display for the judges.

In his regional competitions the cuts were a pork loin, beef rump and chicken.

In Brad's division the four winners are automatically through to the Grand Final. Brad didn't win the Upper North Island event, but was one of two 'wildcard' entrants selected by judges from all the competitors.

The Grand Final was held at Auckland's Shed 10, and unlike previous years, there was no prior information about the cuts to complete.

"We had five minutes' notice of what we were working with," says Brad. "It was a lot of extra pressure."

Competitors were given a pork shoulder, 1- rib lamb forequarter, a duck and a rabbit and had two hours to cut, pack and display.

Brad admits he felt under tremendous pressure and didn't operate very well for the first 30 minutes.

"I pulled myself together for a good hour's work — and then there was the half hour panic to finish."

It was better than his first attempt at competition when he failed to finish.

In his third year he also made the Grand Final, but says he didn't handle the pressure very well.

"I'm getting better," he says. "The experience helps and the competition itself teaches me a lot about butchery and meat through the networking opportunities it brings." In previous years Brad has prepared for the event by running an in-house competition with his apprentices.

"It gives them an incentive to give competition a go and inspires me to do well," he says.
This year he didn't have any apprentices and says he was needing some inspiration to drive him.

"I looked to my family and it came from my four-month-old nephew Hudson — one of New Zealand's 'heart kids'," says Brad.

"My brother and his wife are getting tremendous help from the Heart Kids New Zealand charity, so I wanted to do well and support the organisation."

Brad was able to donate $500 of his prizemoney to Heart Kids.

"Hudson helped me to handle the pressure and realise a goal," he says.

Brad has been selected by Retail Meats NZ to go to Sacramento in 2020 to compete for the World Young Butcher title.

"My goal is to be named best New Zealand butcher and best young butcher of the year," he says.

That's not bad for someone who didn't want to be a butcher. It makes his dad proud as well.