Ten years into the history of the World Butchers’ Challenge (WBC), often referred to as “the Olympics of meat,” Team Canada is entering the stage for the first time. The Canadian team features six professional butchers, including Edmonton’s Corey Meyer and Elyse Chatterton.
In his 25 years of butchery, Meyer didn’t think he’d one day put on shiny chain mail to compete with butchers from all over the world. It was Chatterton who introduced him to the audition. “How wonderful it would be if we have two butchers from Edmonton on Team Canada,” recalls Chatterton. “That was all I thought about when dragging Corey into it. I know this is quite different from what we usually do at meat markets, but I can’t stop being excited about representing Canada in front of the best butchers around the world.”
Within three hours and 15 minutes, the team needs to transform a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb and five chickens into a themed display. To keep everyone on the same wave-length, the team that combines butchery professionals from Eastern and Western Canada is split into three parts.
“We have two breakers break down the proteins, two trimmers further break it down and cut it into appropriate sizes. Then they pass on to the finishers, who plate and fancy the meat up. It’s all teamwork,” says Meyer.
When the WBC started in 2011, it was a feisty competition between New Zealand and Australia. Now the biannual butcher competition extends its team list to feature 14 countries, including Butchers of America and The Butcher Wolfpack Germany. “We’re competing with the best of the best,” says Meyer. “I pay a lot of respect to those teams. I’ve seen their videos on social media and read about their expertise. But we also have a pretty strong team. I believe we’ll do OK. And even if we didn’t do as good as we expected, it’d still be a hell of fun experience.”
Meyer and Chatterton have met up with the rest of the team in Ontario several times this spring and summer, under the leadership of team captain Peter Baarda, three-time winner of Ontario’s Finest Butcher Competition.
“We’ll see each other again before heading off to Sacramento in September,” says Chatterton. “At that time, we’ll present as a team. And we’re sharp.”
After 16 years with ACME in Ritchie, Meyer’s heart warms when people come into the shop and wish him luck at the competition. The third-generation butcher of the family now wears his Team Canada chain mail underneath the apron when he’s behind the counter. “It’s becoming part of my personality. I might as well wear those even after the Challenge.
“Have I told you about the day we made the team? I was at a fast-food restaurant grabbing lunch, and I checked my phone. There was a text from Elyse, all caps, CHECK YOUR EMAILS. Then I knew we both made it into the team. I was so excited and started woo-hooing at the restaurant. Everyone looked at me. I said, sorry, I just made Team Canada.”
Chatterton sometimes wonders if 14 is still considered a young age for starting a butchery career. She worked at Popowich Meat Company since it first opened until recently starting at Sysco.
“Pretty much every butcher you talk to is a good cook, but I’m more into baking,” says Chatterton, who also entered a baking competition last year.
“I feel like people don’t usually think of butchers when talking about food scenes, as if we are not in a shared industry.
“I’ve seen a big change in the butcher culture in the past decade. I wouldn’t post any raw meat cuts on Facebook even five years ago, because that was not what people wanted to see on their timeline. Chefs went through a phase where everyone cheers for what they post on social media. But, for butchers, we’re still waiting for our chance to show off some skills that people would think are cool.”
But Chatterton finds people are becoming more interested in what happens to their food before it hits the plate, and enjoys having chats about recipes and cooking styles at the counter and online. “People are getting more open and curious about the meat industry. And we have the answers to a lot of their questions. It’s time to remind everyone that we come from the community as our butcher team represents the country at the World Butchers’ Challenge.”
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This article appears in the September 2022 issue of Edify