Underappreciated Butchers Want Your Appreciation

Whole Foods Market recently hosted a competition for butchers. Why? Many of us remember living in other parts of the country, and the world, where there was a butcher shop on every street corner. (Vegans: Reader discretion is strongly advised from here on in.)

Rich, tender pieces of meat hung on stainless-steel hooks, and delectable parts of pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, sausage, and even (where I lived) horse meat were displayed behind large glass counters. Neighbors strolled into the shops, gossiped while carefully watching butchers expertly trim fatty bits off their chosen items and then weigh and wrap everything in butcher paper, and walked out with fresh cuts that were ready for cooking. The butcher was part of the extended family.

Today, meats and poultry are mostly put out on supermarket shelves for easy access. Rarely does anyone deal directly with butchers anymore. In the food industry, butchery is an art form, and Whole Foods decided to honor that under-appreciated field. Whole Foods' Florida meat coordinator, Scott Chansky, said, "This competition started last year because we wanted people to get to know their butchers. We want our food to be good, safe, and healthy. We have a welfare animal system in place, and we want people to know that we respect the animals, farmers, and their farms."

The grocer invited its in-house butchers to sharpen their knives and gear up for a tough contest. Each Whole Foods store in Florida nominated its best butchers to compete in the regional "cut-off." Winners of the East Coast finals will head to Washington, D.C., for the Top Butcher Competition National Finals. Winners get bragging rights and an award.

Competitions took place first in Tampa, Sarasota, Winter Park, Jacksonville, and Orlando; second in Naples, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, and Plantation; and third in Wellington, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach Gardens. Last week, butchers from Coral Gables, South Beach, Pinecrest, and Aventura tried out, and the winner was David Headley.

Yesterday, the last four contestants, including David, dazzled the judges with their slicing skills in Boca Raton. Chansky said, "Competitors are given specific portions of meat. They have 15 minutes to properly cut and present their results. They are judged on creativity, precision behind their slices, speed, and the ability to maximize yield per piece." Organizers want the contest to become an annual event. Whole Foods' regional associate marketing coordinator, Briana Madrid, said, "We do this for our customers. It highlights the cutting, but ultimately it makes people appreciate their butchers."

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