Riki Kerekere from Countdown Meat & Seafood has won the prestigious Alto Butcher of the Year title and Corey White from Countdown Meat & Seafood was crowned ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice at the Grand Finale which took place at Shed 10 in Auckland.

“There are so many people I want to thank. It’s not easy to get yourself organised and do all the work for this. You need good people to help you and I’d like to thank all my extended whanau at Countdown who have got me here," said Riki Kerekere, a staunch Warriors supporter, who oversees the butchery operation at Countdown’s central processing plant in Otahuhu, Auckland.

Following tightly fought regional competitions in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, involving over 50 competitors, the 10 finalists in each category went head-to-head in a battle of the butchers before the winners were announced at the red-carpeted awards dinner.

The competitors were required to show their cutting skills in a two-hour test of skills, nerve and expertise. During this they were expected to break down a size 16 chicken, a boneless beef rump, a full pork loin and a forequarter of lamb – a mystery cut that competitors were only told about at the start of the competition – into a themed display of value-added products. In addition to this, the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentices were also expected to complete a 30 question, multiple choice exam and an interview with the judges as part of their route to glory.

Todd Heller – of the Hellers’ empire and head judge of the World Butchers’ Challenge – presided over proceedings. Alongside Todd Heller on the judging panel was Corey Winder, the captain of New Zealand’s butchery team the Pure South Sharp Blacks and Peter Farrelly – a stalwart of the butchery trade from Auckland-based Wilson Hellaby.

At the other end of the spectrum, the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice category provides an invaluable opportunity for those just starting out in the industry. This was highlighted by Corey White, who was a last-minute replacement for another competitor who dropped out. “I was last minute call-up for this final, so I only had about a week to prepare for this – it’s been pretty stressful," said White.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work to pull it off. I’d like to thank Countdown who have given a lot of time off work to train and Riki Kerekere for putting me in the right position.”

Head judge of the competition, Matt Grimes, is a former butcher himself and has been involved with the competition for over 10 years now. Having overseen all the regional competitions this year, he was in a unique position to gauge how the competitors have developed over the two rounds. “The standard on-show was extremely high – it was very competitive and was incredibly hard to call from a judges’ perspective," said Grimes.

“The butchers that enter are being recognised throughout the industry and they are lifting the profile of our trade. During my several years’ involvement in the competition the standards have improved dramatically, there is more of a focus on cookability, saleability and profitability of the product – rather than producing something that looks good. I hope the competitors carry on doing what they are doing, competitions like this are getting them noticed. Win, lose or draw, the butchers have achieved a great deal and should be very proud of themselves.”

Aside from the glory and satisfaction of winning these respected awards, Riki Kerekere and Corey White will receive an all-expenses-paid spot on the 2020 World Butchers’ Challenge Study Tour in Sacramento, California, a knife set courtesy of Victorinox and the coveted Alto Butcher or ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year trophies. Corey will also receive a position on the ANZCO Foods Young Butchers of New Zealand squad.

Simon Dixon from Island Bay Butchery, Wellington was named the Alto Butcher of the Year runner-up and Cherise Redden from Countdown Meat & Seafood was named the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice of the Year runner-up.