The competition will take place in Sacramento, California and will include 16 teams, all battling it out to be crowned the best in the world. The current holders Ireland will be in attendance but will be joined by new entrants such as Iceland, Mexico and Wales, the latter causing the British Beefeaters to be renamed to Team England.
The rules are simple – each team is given a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb and five chickens that they must then transform into a themed display of value-added products within three hours and 15 minutes. The teams are allowed to provide their own seasonings, spices, marinades and garnish to finish products that are assessed by independent judges who score on technique & skill, workmanship, product innovation, overall finish and presentation.
Global Meat News caught up with Ashley Gray, chief executive of the World Butchers’ Challenge Council, to discuss how the competition has grown since 2011 and what plans are in store for 2020 and beyond.
Having worked on the event since day one, Gray is amazed at the scale of the World Butchers’ Challenge. “To this day, I still pinch myself when I think about how much and how quickly the World Butchers’ Challenge has grown. Whilst I didn’t expect it to grow at this rate and to this level, I can still vividly remember the very first competition, coined the Trans-Tasman Test Match, between Australia and New Zealand in 2011 and thinking then, that the spirit of the comp was something pretty special.
World Butchers’ Challenge 2020 Teams
- New Zealand
- South Africa
“I had only been in the industry for 2 months and when I was asked to help co-ordinate the challenge, I didn’t think much of it. But once the whistle blew and the twelve butchers began working against each other and the clock, I had a few goosebumps back then at the passion and skill that was on display. I think that was the first of many moments I’ve witnessed of talent in the industry that has propelled me to do my best to grow the World Butchers’ Challenge as best I can.”
The competition was developed by Rod Slater of Beef + Lamb New Zealand back in 2011, and Gray said he’s exceptionally proud of his achievement. “Rod Slater is our WBC Chairman and an integral part of the guiding and shaping the competition. Rod has been a driving force behind many national and global initiatives in his lifetime but he is as humble as pie so probably won’t admit to that himself. But I know that watching something he is so passionate about, the trade, being platformed on a world stage makes him incredibly proud.”
The tournament was first held as a challenge between Australia and New Zealand. In 2013, the UK was invited to enter a team. It then expanded to four teams with the introduction of France in 2016, before growing to 12 teams in 2018. Team Ireland is the current holder of the World Butchers’ Challenge title, having won it on home soil. In 2020, 16 teams will compete (see box).
Moving from two teams, to three was a jump. Now it’s 16 teams competing. Just how big can it get?
“We’ve been approached by a few more countries wanting to compete in 2020 but realistically, the capacity of the arena space is 16 hence our numbers for 2020. I would be confident we could likely double that figure in 2022, so we’ll be working through logistics such as heats followed by a Grand Final perhaps. Watch this space.”
This growth has also been a challenge for the WBC team, given the logistics of the event.
“The speed at which we’ve grown,” explains Gray. “There has been so much more interest than ever anticipated and really the competition has grown faster than we have had the capacity and resource to react to it. This is a great problem to have though and for as much interest as we’ve had, we’ve had equal support – it’s been a real team effort.
“We manage the World Butchers’ Challenge in New Zealand and there is a small team dedicated to working on the World Butchers’ Challenge every day of the week. Our hosts in Sacramento, the Butchers’ of America, Visit Sacramento and the Golden 1 Centre all have dedicated people working on the challenge as well. Plus there is so much time and energy invested into the WBC from each individual country that are competing.”
As well as working on 2020, the team has to look ahead to 2022, including deciding upon a location. “Sacramento has really set the bar high. I think, as was the case in Belfast, the whole city lives and breathes an ethos that is all about understanding where food comes from and having respect for that. So for me, I’d love to see that continue. That the WBC is leveraged from a place that is right behind our competition.”
Gray says events like these are essential for the meat industry’s growth. “As an industry, we’ve facing a whole raft of challenges. And unfortunately, generally speaking, we seem to be more reactive and defensive than pro-active. The World Butchers’ Challenge breaks the mould and showcases our industry for what it really is. Innovative, cohesive and a community. That’ what I believe it does for the meat industry – tells the story and generates attention of our butchers which only helps to balance out the negative noise.”
Not only creating competition between nations, the event has also fostered community spirit amongst butchers from around the world. “That’s always existed but the focus to begin with was on the event itself. However, as we grow it feels as though the community aspect of it, is growing even more and the actual event is only one part of a global network that transcends location and supports, educates and inspires one another.”
In 2016, the event added Apprentice and Young Butcher categories, Gray said this is important for the future of the competition and the industry. “[It’s gone] really well as they’re also a stepping stone into the teams. The opportunity here is for self-development but also for the younger guys to really make a name for themselves. We’ve already witnessed a number of younger competitors taking up amazing opportunities that have generated after their WBC performances.”
And onto the million dollar question, who does Gray think will win WBC 2020? “[I’m] remaining neutral on this one however I will say, my rugby jersey is certainly always black.”
The World Butchers’ Challenge 2020 takes place on 5 September 2020.