Customers of a Far North supermarket might want to take an extra moment to appreciate the well-cut, juicy piece of steak or sumptuous bit of pork next time they find it on their fork.
That's because in the far back corner of Kaitaia's Pak'nSave building is a team of butchers and leading that team is national champion and world top-three butcher Luka Young.
The 33-year-old father of four has worked as the store butchery manager for around a year and a half after returning to his roots in the Far North from Auckland, where he grew up.
Initially planning to become a builder, the master butcher said it was a chance to work part-time in the field that he discovered where his real passion lay.
"My mate got me the job and once I got into butchery I forgot all about the building," he said.
"I saw what the butchers did down the back and loved being able to work with the meat, so pushed myself to take it further."
Young started his butcher's apprenticeship at Pak'nSave Lincoln Road (Auckland) about 11 years ago before moving on to manage the New World Eastridge butchery section.
He said it was during his time as an apprentice he was introduced to the world of butchery competitions and was mesmerised by where the field could take him.
"I just saw how these competitions could open up so many doors and could take you to different places and totally immersed myself in it," he said.
"I was 22 when I first started and have competed in around 10 competitions since then.
"I won the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year in 2014 and have won the Pact Packaging Young Butcher of the Year upper North Island Regional championships quite a few times."
Young's last major competition was in 2018 representing New Zealand in the Young Butcher category of the World Butcher's Challenge (WBC) in Belfast, Ireland, where he was third.
The WBC (known as the "Olympics of Butchery") is a biennial event that began as a Trans-Tasman Test Match in 2011 and has teams of butchers from around the world compete to be crowned world champions.
After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, Young said he was excited to recently be named as part of New Zealand's team – the Hellers Sharp Blacks.
As part of the national team, he'll once again represent Aotearoa on the world stage, this time at the 2022 World Butchers' Challenge (WBC) in the United States in September.
"I'll be over there for a week where we'll go on a study tour and visit the different butcher shops over there before ending the week competing at a big food show in Sacramento," Young said.
"I really enjoy the challenge of the competitions, as well as the camaraderie of it all because you meet people from all around New Zealand and the world."
The Sharp Blacks is comprised of seven of the best butchers in the country, who all have their sights set on The Golden Knife Trophy awarded to the top team at the WBC.
Once there, 14 international teams will be tasked with slicing up a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb and five chickens to produce a themed display of value-added products in just three hours and 15 minutes.
A global panel of judges will then score each display based on strict criteria including knife skills, hygiene, safety, consistency, time management, cookability and saleability as well as style, visual impact and innovation of the display.
Kiwi Rod Slater, WBC founder and chairman of the organising committee, is credited with coming up with the original concept of the Trans-Tasman Test Match.
Alongside Ashley Gray, World Butchers' Challenge CEO, in just a few years they have driven what was a fun, industry-focused event into an international phenomenon attracting worldwide media coverage and record sponsorship.
"When I came up with the concept over a glass of whisky with an Aussie colleague, I never thought it would grow into what it is today," Slater said of the exponential success.
"It just goes to show that the international butchery trade is not just alive and kicking, it's truly flourishing."
Kaitaia Pak'nSave's new owner Doug Cochrane has been in the role for just over two months and said he was extremely proud to have a champion butcher in store.
"I'm so delighted to have someone like Luka here and as a result, we have some lovely products at a good price for our customers," Cochrane said.
"He leads a great team and like all of the butchers working in-store, Luka is a fully-skilled butcher.
"We wish him the best of luck and I'm sure he's going to come away victorious."
To get a good idea of what it's all about, watch the TVNZ On Demand series Knives Out which documented the Sharp Blacks' journey to Belfast in 2018.
The Sharp Blacks squad:
Riki Kerekere (team captain, product developer) – Hellers, Auckland
Reuben Sharples (boning and trimming) – Aussie Butcher New Lynn, Auckland
Dan Klink (boning and trimming) - Mangawhai Meat Shop, Northland
Corey White (product developer) – A Lady Butcher, Auckland
Luka Young (product developer) – Pak'nSave Kaitaia, Northland
Cherise Redden (garnish and display) – Pak'nSave Glen Innes, Auckland
James Smith (garnish and display/non-travelling team member) – Franklin Country
Meats/The Tattooed Butcher, Auckland