Butcher of the Year competition provides future for Māori competitors

By Jessica Tyson

New Zealand's top butchers got their knives out last night for the Butcher of the Year grand final held in Auckland.

Finalists were chosen in September following five tightly fought regional competitions in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin involving more than 40 competitors. Three main titles were up for grabs at the ASB Showgrounds last night - New Zealand's top butcher; the top butcher apprentice; and the master butcher of the year.

The test

The two-hour cutting test required competitors to keep their nerve and showcase their expertise in front of a team of eight judges. Both the Alto Young Butcher competitors and the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentices were tasked with breaking down a size 20 chicken, a whole pork leg, a beef short loin, and one mystery cut, a lamb forequarter, into a display of value-added products.

For Lehi Te Kiri from Evans Bacon Company, it was his first time entering the competition and his nerves were high, knowing he had a limited time to prepare his table.

“That's because I’m used to just working with my workmates with no cameras around. Everything that’s on my table at the moment, we actually make for the shop, so it’s not just got the competition. So that’s a lot of pride bringing what I do every day to the table.”

Te Kiri says learning how to become a butcher has been valuable.

“Going to the marae, doing it there, everyone wants a butcher at the marae. I love hunting and fishing, so if I go hunting I can bring it home and process it myself, know what I’m up to, so straight from the hill to the table.”

Lehi Te Kiri from Evans Bacon Company / Source: Te Ao

It was also Delmond Kimiora’s first time entering the master butcher section. Kimiora is from Rarotonga and has been working at Pa'knSave Pukekohe for more than 10 years.

He says he was happy to provide a unique table of meats.

“I wouldn’t change anything. I’m happy and proud. It’s colourful. That’s where I’m from, Rarotonga, a tropical island. Even some of the products I got from home, the mango, the plum, so I think it’s a good complement.”

Kimiora says when he moved to Aotearoa in 1996 he didn’t know how to cook meat properly.

He says in Rarotonga when meat is rare, "you can’t eat it"

"Now I know there’s such thing as rare and medium-rare. We used to cook everything pretty much to crackle back home. As long as it’s not bleeding, you're sweet, but coming over this is the best thing.”

Delmond Kimiora from Pakn’Save Pukekohe / Source: Te Ao

Master butcher Rike Kerekere,  of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Ngāpuhi, was a commentator at the event last night. He also had his own apprentice, Vichith Ouk from Countdown Meat and Seafood, Auckland competing.

“He is one of the many apprentices I’ve had over the years that I train and get them into these competitions, representing Otara where he lives and that’s my hood. [I] love Otara and he’s representing them as well. It’s good to see kids from South Auckland perform. South Auckland has got so much talent.”

Ouk moved to New Zealand from Cambodia and English is his second language. He was grateful for the support he's received from Kerekere and other leaders within his workplace.

“The people are great and the industry. The people are always helping you,” Ouk says.

The apprentices also complete a 30-question, multiple-choice exam and an interview with the judges as part of their route to glory.

James Smith from Pak’nSave, Pukekohe, won the Alto Young Butcher of the Year title, Blair Wright from Peter Timbs Meats in Christchurch was crowned ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice and Rob Lees from Warkworth Butchery took out the Pure South Master Butcher title in the grand final at the ASB Showgrounds in Auckland. 

Lees, who only agreed to enter the competition in a deal with his apprentice, was pleased he took home the $3,500 cash prize.

“You’ve got to back yourself in these competitions but I am definitely surprised to have won. It’s taken a lot of practice."

Kerekere wins Christie Award

Meanwhile, Kerekere was presented with the Christie Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the retail meat industry. 

Now in its 11th year, the award is given to a member of the industry who has gone "above and beyond" in their efforts for the industry.

Kerekere, of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Ngāpuhi, is the operations manager of Countdown Meat and Livestock in Otahuhu. Kerekere has been an Alto Butcher of the Year winner, a member of New Zealand’s butchery team, The Hellers Sharp Blacks, and a World Butchers’ Challenge judge in Belfast in 2018.

Retail Meat New Zealand says Kerekere is the heart and soul of the processing plant, overseeing a 450-strong team that supplies every Countdown store in the North Island with meat products seven days a week.

Kerekere says, “I’m just honoured to have joined that list of amazing people who have paved the way for the industry and made things possible for me and my career. I’m just so happy to have won.”