Food & Drink

Training begins in Sacramento for World Butchers’ Challenge -- and the knives are out

Can Team USA win the World Butchers’ Challenge?

Danny Johnson, co-owner of Taylor’s Market and captain of the first-ever U.S. team to enter the World Butchers’ Challenge, has a message for the competition: Bring it on.
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Danny Johnson, co-owner of Taylor’s Market and captain of the first-ever U.S. team to enter the World Butchers’ Challenge, has a message for the competition: Bring it on.

Danny Johnson, co-owner of Taylor’s Market and captain of the first-ever U.S. team to enter the World Butchers’ Challenge, has a message for the competition: Bring it on.

“ ... We’re going to show them the American-style, how we do it,” Johnson said during a team practice earlier this week at Taylor’s Kitchen on Freeport Boulevard.

The international competition doesn’t take place until March 2018 in Belfast, Ireland, but Johnson and his teammates already have started preparing for the event, which will require them them to “cut up a half beef, half hog, a whole lamb and five chickens” into “salable pieces” in three hours and 15 minutes, he said.

Teams will be judged on how well they break down the animals, as well as any “value added” products they create, such as sausage.

“The cutting is the easy part,” Johnson said. “The planning, the scheming, is the hard part.”

Early trash talk is helping Team USA sharpen its focus. Johnson said he read remarks in related online forums that said “to be an American butcher, you just have to cut a steak on a band saw.”

Johnson and his five teammates – representing California, Texas, Virginia and South Carolina – intend to make the naysayers eat their words. Other countries expected to compete in the event include Australia, Bulgaria, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa.

This week’s practice began with Bryan Butler, co-owner of Austin’s Salt & Time butcher shop, pulling out an 8-inch breaking knife and cutting into a hog’s hind quarter on a large plastic cutting board.

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Bryan Butler, winner of the best butcher in Austin, Texas, cuts pork chops as he and members of Team USA for the World Butchers’ Challenge 2018 do a practice run at Taylor’s Meat Market on Aug. 7, 2017. Hector Amezcua hamezcua@sacbee.com

In a matter of seconds, he freed a massive hunk of meat and passed it over to Lothar Erbe, a sausage specialist from Virginia. With a bone saw and a butcher’s knife, Erbe then cut it into smaller pieces.

The American team plans to meet at least three more times before Belfast to fine-tune its chemistry and work out any kinks, like the one it briefly experienced at Taylor’s Kitchen when trying to remove skin from a pig’s foot and keep it intact for a specialty dish.

The challenge: Getting the skin off safely and fast. For a few minutes, the team discussed various methods. “We were just trying to figure out the most efficient way to do it,” Johnson said.

The agreed-upon technique involved hanging the foot from a hook and pulling off the skin with pliers. Johnson declined to discuss exactly what they would do with the skin.

“Those are the little tricks we have to keep to ourselves right now,” he said. “We are dead set on winning this thing.”

Other Team USA members include: Craig Deihl, a celebrated charcuterie maker and James Beard Award-nominated chef from South Carolina; John Fink, owner of The Whole Beast, a ranch-to-table restaurant located in San Francisco; and Paul Carras, who works with Johnson at Taylor’s and was part of the team that won the “Flying Knives” competition at the 2013 Eat Real Festival in Oakland.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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