Dunedin butcher Greg Egerton has been crowned New Zealand's best butcher.
Egerton, who works at Countdown Dunedin Central, cut through a field of more than 44 of New Zealand's best professional butchers to take the Alto Butcher of the Year trophy in Thursday's grand final event in Auckland.
Countdown also featured in the apprentice awards, Cherise Redden from Countdown meat and seafood in Auckland winning the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year Award.
Egerton has been a butcher for 26 years, including stints at the freezing works, with George Mills butchery in South Dunedin and a brief spell at the Mad Butcher in Dunedin.
"Back then value-added was crumbed schnitzel and meatballs. So I've been there through the whole evolution," he said.
Egerton was also a member of the Hellers Sharp Blacks national butchery team that competed in Belfast last year, finishing second to Ireland by only one point.
He acknowledged his manager Paul Mason, who challenged him to enter the award and be an example to some of the apprentices.
"Without Paul's support and encouragement this wouldn't be possible, so this award is because of him."
Following tightly fought regional competitions in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, the top six butchers and eight apprentices in the two categories went head to head before the winners were announced.
The competitors were required to show their knife abilities in a two-hour test of skills, nerve and expertise.
The Alto Butcher competitors were given mystery cuts five minutes before the competition comprising an 11-rib forequarter of lamb, a pork shoulder, a duck and a wild rabbit, with which to create their ultimate wish-list of value-added cuts.
As part of his display, Egerton deboned the entire rabbit, put the backstraps on to skewers and wrapped the whole thing in pancetta.
"I'd never really worked with duck and rabbit before, but I trusted my abilities and understanding of flavours. But even so, it was easily the hardest thing I've ever done."
The ANZCO Foods butcher apprentices were tasked with breaking down a size 16 chicken, a boneless beef rump, a full pork loin and a wild rabbit, as a mystery cut, into a themed display of value-added products.
In addition, the apprentices were also expected to complete an exam and an interview with the judges as part of their route to glory.
Head judge and captain of New Zealand's butchery team, the Hellers Sharp Blacks, Corey Winder has been involved in the competition for 20 years and said the skills needed to become a great butcher were always growing.
"The standard today is absolutely unbelievable. ... You walk along and look at these displays - it wows you that these butchers have come up with these ideas within a two-hour time frame," Winder said.
The judging panel also included Steve Newsome from Alliance Meats, Reuben Sharples from Aussie Butcher New Lynn, James Smith from Pak'n Save Pukekohe and Jarrod McGregor, Beef + Lamb NZ Ambassador Chef.
Cherise Redden, who was runner-up in last year's competition, said the award meant a lot for her personally.
"It opens doors and offers me career opportunities."
Egerton and Redden will receive an all-expenses paid international study tour to Sacramento, a knife set courtesy of Victorinox and the coveted Alto Butcher or ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year trophies.
Redden also gets a spot on the ANZCO Foods Young Butchers of New Zealand squad as part of the World Butchers' Challenge in September next year.
Brad Gillespie from New World Rototuna was named the Alto Butcher of the Year runner-up and Makalah Stevens from New World Foxton was named the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year runner-up.