Butchers from across the Waikato/Central North Island looked sharp and set about cutting their way through a two-hour competition in the regional stages of the 2021 Pact Packaging Young Butcher and ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year competition.
Brad Gillespie from New World Rototuna placed first in the Pact Packaging Young Butcher of the Year category and James Beattie from Pak'nSave Te Awamutu claimed first spot in the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year category.
Both butchers also won their respective categories last year, and will once again represent the Waikato at the grand final. Brad placed fourth in 2019 but was a wild card grand finalist and went all the way to win the title.
Last week's regional competition was the first in a national series to find New Zealand's top butchers to compete in a grand final showdown in August.
The Waikato/Central North Island contestants put their boning, trimming, slicing and dicing skills to the test as they broke down a size 20 chicken, a whole pork leg, and a beef short loin into a display of value-added products.
Brad says he is stoked with his win and stuck to a plan which he feels he executed to perfection.
"I was happy with the judges' comments and feel confident heading to the grand final," says Brad.
"I will keep practising to get my speed up in readiness to compete against the other finalists."
Twenty-nine-year-old Brad was raised in Kihikihi and went to the local primary school and Te Awamutu Intermediate and college.
He says he had no intention of following in his dad Ken's footsteps and becoming a butcher.
Brad left school and was working in McDonald's but realised he was tired of that job and asked Ken if he could work for him.
"His reply was yes, but only if I did an apprenticeship.
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.
When he sold in 2015 Brad moved on to work at Raglan's local butchery for a year then won a job at New World Rototuna.
In 2018 Brad was promoted to manager of the New World Rototuna butchery and seafood department.
"My strength as a butcher is my passion for the industry and getting out and showing what butchers are all about and encouraging the younger ones to get involved.
"It's a massive step to enter competitions and cut meat in front of judges, but it grows your confidence which has a great knock-on effect in your workplace," says Brad.
James, also 29, is in the final year of his apprenticeship and is over the moon with his win.
"I am delighted to have two wins in a row. I made a point of taking on the comments from the judges at the grand final last year and incorporating those into my plan this year," says James.
"I also have great support from my butchery manager who encourages me to experiment with different ideas and flavour profiles which helped enormously."
Brad and James will now continue on to the grand final, on Thursday, August 5 at the ASB Showgrounds in Auckland, where they will further showcase their cutting skills, creativity and knowledge of the trade against the best in the country.
Alongside industry and peer recognition, the winning Pact Packaging Young Butcher receives a coveted trophy plus the choice of either an all-expenses paid butchery study tour or a $4000 cash prize.
The ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year also receives a coveted trophy plus the choice of either an all-expenses paid butchery study tour or a $3000 cash prize.