Waipawa Butchery's Justin Hinchco will be busy over the next month sharpening his skills before he makes the trip to Auckland to contest another grand final in the Alto Butcher of the Year competition.
After qualifying at the Lower North Island regional final in Wellington on July 20, the 30 year old has vowed to take a steely determination into the grand final on September 6 as he strives for his first national Butcher of the Year title.
He won the now-defunct Lower North Island Young Butcher of the Year category back in 2016, and this year marks his second consecutive grand final appearance in the coveted senior section of the competition, and fourth trip overall to the national decider in eight years.
"It's like an annual pilgrimage for me," Hincho said, admitting he was slightly disappointed at not taking out the regional title again, which was won by Aaron Pohatu from New World Greenmeadows in Napier.
But after some hiccups with his equipment at the regionals, he was more relieved to just make the cut and earn a place among the top 10 butchers in the national final.
"I had a bit of a [night]mare to be honest. I had a few equipment changes about half way through and I got a little bit flustered," he said.
At the regional final, the butchers had to showcase their skills for the judges by breaking down a whole boneless rump, a whole pork loin and a whole chicken into different cuts within a two-hour time limit.
"You've got a few compulsory cuts that you have to make, but the rest of it's up to you. You get marked on about seven different categories based on yield and knife skills, hygiene, health and safety, as well as obviously the finished product and you have to display cooking knowledge [of the cuts] as well."
Expecting an even more challenging practical test in the final, Hinchco said between now and then he would be busy sharpening on his skills and experimenting with some different cuts in his quest for that elusive national title.
"I will be 31 by the time the grand final comes around, so I will be doing some run-throughs at home and cooking up some stuff for the family at home and see how we go.
"It's my fourth crack at it, but I should have plenty left in the tank for the final," he said.
Butchery owners Duncan Smith and wife Annabel Tapley-Smith, who supply all the meat for the business from their farm, Patangata Station, recruited Hinchco when they took over Waipawa Butchery last June.
They were not surprised he had made it through to another grand final.
"He has outstanding skill levels and is constantly coming up with new cuts and ideas for our customers," said Duncan.
Wife Annabel described Hinchco as an "old-school butcher in a young man's body".
"Justin was taught the old school way. And that's part of our story — every cut at our butchery has been broken down by hand," she said.