Edmonton butcher makes the cut with national team
For the past decade-plus, Corey Meyer has been plying his trade as owner of Acme Meat Market, the storied Edmonton butcher shop whose roots reach all the way back to 1921.
In September, however, he decided to take his skills to the international stage, as part of Canada’s first-ever team to compete at the World Butchers’ Challenge, which staged its first event since 2018 in California this past September 2-4.
For Meyer (Retail Meat Cutting ’96), this was a chance to hone his skills alongside the best breakers, finishers and trimmers anywhere on Earth, as well as an opportunity to showcase Canadian culture for a suite of international judges.
He spoke with techlifetoday a few days after returning home from the competition about representing the country through meat, how the team fared, and how hockey inevitably found its way into the competition.
Techlifetoday: What is the World Butchers’ Challenge, and how did you decide you wanted to be part of it?
Corey Meyer: It’s basically the Olympics of meat. There were 13 teams from around the world, and we got together in Sacramento, California, where we were given 3.5 hours to break down and create the best butcher counter you’ve ever seen – with a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb, and five chickens.
I’d always known about the challenge, but Canada has actually never had a team before. About four years ago, one of my teammates, Elyse Chatterton, who’s also here in Edmonton, reached out and said, “Did you hear they’re putting a team in this year?”
So we both tried out. There were about 30 people from across Canada who entered, and we were lucky enough to be two of the final six.
You were one of Team Canada’s official trimmers – what does that mean?
There were three positions on the team. First there were two breakers, Damian Goriup and Brent Herrington, who break down the protein [into smaller rough cuts]. Then there was myself and Peter Baarda, who were the trimmers, or cutters. It was our job to process those primal cuts into individual cuts.
They really made the display pop, and made it all look beautiful.
Then we passed everything on to the two gals on the team, Elyse Chatterton and Taryn Baker, who were our finishers. They really made the display pop, and made it all look beautiful.
How do you prepare for an event like this?
Because most of the team was in Ontario, we would fly there and practise about six times per year, COVID notwithstanding. We got the proteins involved in the competition, set the timer, and then ran through our works and made our display. Each display was based on a theme that we chose, and we tried to really go in and be as efficient as possible.
What was Team Canada’s theme?
We tried to represent how Canada is a mosaic of different cultures. So we did a Jiggs dinner for eastern Canada and ginger beef for Calgary. Halifax donairs. Tourtière. Dried beef jerky for the indigenous peoples. Different things that represent the Canadiana of different cultures.
And how did you do in the competition?
Each country brought a judge, and the judges chose the winners: Germany, Australia and New Zealand. But we ended up winning the People’s Choice Award, which was chosen by the organizers of the challenge. We were a bit bummed out to not win the big prize, but it felt good to be recognized, and it was an incredible honour to represent the country.
Now that you’ve had time to reflect on things, did the competition live up to your expectations? Did anything about it surprise you?
The venue was insane, beyond anything I could have imagined. We were on the floor of the Golden 1 Center, where the Sacramento Kings play in the NBA. It was incredible.
It was more electric than a lot of hockey games I’ve been to.
There was a pretty good crowd, and each country had their supporters. The Italians and the French, especially – their fans were chanting and singing like they were at a soccer game. And the Canadian fans were right there with them. It was more electric than a lot of hockey games I’ve been to.
Speaking of hockey, I heard you got a text from Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft after the event. What did he say?
As part of our display, we used hockey sticks to hang sausage from. Because Canada equals hockey, right? So we used sticks that were actually donated by the Oilers. Everyone loved that part of our display, even though half of our team was from Ontario and are Leaf fans. So that was a bit painful for them.
Coach Woodcroft is a fairly regular customer here at the shop and just a super nice guy. When he heard how we did in the competition, he sent me a text congratulating us.
How will this experience inform or improve your work as a butcher at Acme?
Competing on a world stage like that, you can’t help but raise your game. Training like this for the past four years, and working with the team we had, it just raises the bar. You naturally get better from working with the best in the world.
Do you think an international event like this signals an increase of public interest in the art of butchering?
Absolutely, and that’s the biggest thing we were striving for. I love chefs, but you always hear about the chef – how they’re the rock stars. You know what? Now it’s the butcher’s time to shine. We tried to highlight the industry, and I hope that we helped inspire more young people to look into the trade. Hopefully we opened a few eyes.