To some, the art of butchery might seem like simply cutting up meat. But to Largs apprentice Jack Stuart, it’s a passion – one he has been recognised at a national level for.
The 19-year-old, who works at Neal Eastley’s Butchery in East Maitland, was recently named the Australian Meat Industry Council Apprentice of the Year and has also qualified to represent Australia in the World Butchers’ Challenge in Ireland next month.
For those who don’t know, a butchers competition involves cutting and presenting various types of meat in a set time limit.
But it’s not just simply who chops the best leg of lamb.
In the apprentice competition, Jack had to complete theory and practical tests, and was judged on strict criteria such as personal hygiene and appearance, preparation, food safety, use of equipment, product knowledge, use of ingredients, creativity and practicality.
Add to that the fact that the ingredients were a mystery to the contestants before the competition and that they had to compete in front of hundreds of people, and it becomes a fairly challenging task.
“It was pretty daunting,” Jack said. “I just tried to think I was at work still doing what I usually do.”
That mindset certainly paid off. The third year apprentice also believes the preparation he has put into the World Butchers’ Challenge also helped, even going in to the shop for several hours of a Sunday to practice for the international competition.
To qualify for worlds Jack had to trial at a state level in Sydney and then in the nationals at the Gold Coast, where he was one of three apprentices chosen.
Jack credits his success to a mix of the traditional style of butchery he has been taught at Neal Eastley’s, and the modern skills he has picked up from Youtube videos.
“I think it’s helped that I’ve been taught how to butcher in the old school ways,” he said. “When I first started I didn’t know the difference between a pork chop and a lamb chop.”
But the food industry is something Jack had a keen interest in growing up.
“I’ve always had a passion for farming,” he said. “I like to see how food goes from paddock to plate.”
And interest in the industry as a whole is increasing too.
Jack said the standard was becoming higher and higher at competitions, and that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a TV show established for butchers to compete for a prize.
“You’ve got cooking and baking shows, I’d love to see that (for butchers).”
The World Butchers’ Challenge will take place in Belfast, Ireland from March 15-21.