It was windy, cold and raining on Thursday when we arrived at the Interbay Whole Foods Market in Seattle. The event tent was up in the parking lot, the cutting tables arranged and spectator tables were being draped with red tablecloths. At least they were trying to drape them, the wind was whipping them around like sails and the rain was starting up again. Brrrr…….the northwest regional competition for “Best Butcher” and the “Fishmonger Faceoff” was going to be a test of our cutting skills and our ability to endure some lovely Seattle spring weather.
First order of business for me was a nap. Uhh….yes…you read that right. Whaaaat? Anything worth doing deserves a nap before it gets done! Jacket rolled up and under my head, all stretched out in the back seat of the car and snoozing away in about 30 seconds flat. Forty minutes later after a yawn and a stretch I’m out of the car and heading over to the tent to size up my fellow competitors and see if anyone knows what we’ll be cutting.
It all gets started with the “Fishmonger Faceoff”. Two whole fish, a Copper River Salmon and a Halibut, are filleted, de-boned, skinned and sliced in a matter of minutes by three competitors. They were judged on speed, precision and the quality of the cuts. Skillful fishmongers need a light touch with the thinnest and sharpest of knives. One small wrong turn of the blade can be the difference between a glossy smooth fillet or a nicked and bumpy one. It was all smooth for the winner, Cavan Hua, from Vancouver B.C.
Now it’s time for the real block work to begin! A cart is being wheeled across the parking lot loaded up with big hunks of beef. I’m squinting trying to get a good look at what we’ll be cutting. Bone-in chuck, yes, yes, YES! Back in the day (and that would be way back in the day like 40 years ago) I worked at a wholesale meat market where I cut 6 to 8 bone-in chucks every single day. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I could do one with my eyes closed. Ok boys, you’re going to get a run for your money in this competition.
We wave to the crowd, grab our knives and start wrestling with our 40 pound chucks. I’ve decided that I’m going de-bone each vertebrae individually. It’s more time consuming and requires some serious knife work which means it’s not the technique most butchers use but I think it will give me a chance to really show off my knife skills.
The three of us cut, trim and tie while the judges walk from table to table eyeballing our cuts, leaning in to get a good look at the action and taking lots of notes. Thirty minutes later, Kevin, the guy on my right is done and a few minutes later, Todd, the guy on my left is done.
I’m still cutting, trimming and remembering what Mrs. Black Belt Butcher has been saying over and over to me. “Pretty meat, make sure it’s pretty meat”. I take a last look, make a couple of little extra trim cuts just to make sure it’s all pretty and my hands go up.
I’ve said it before but winning feels AWESOME!
Next stop is the national finals to be held on Saturday, September 21st at 11am in Portland, Oregon as part of the 4-day FEAST festival. You’re all invited!