Riki Kerekere, Operations Manager of Countdown Meat & Livestock in Otahuhu, has been awarded the prestigious Christie Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the retail meat industry. Riki was recognised with this prestigious Award at the Alto Butcher, ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice & Pure South Master Butcher live stream event in Auckland last night.

Riki Kerekere said of his win, “I’m just honoured to have joined that list of amazing people who have paved the way for the industry and made things possible for me and my career. I’m just so happy to have won.

Riki has been involved in the meat industry all his working life. Starting out as a clean-up boy he progressed over time through to a management role becoming instrumental in mentoring and training staff and apprentices at the Countdown plant in South Auckland. Riki has his own unique personal approach and knowledge which is highly respected not only by his own team, but also those in the wider meat industry.

Riki had some words of advice for the many young apprentices who look up to him. “Just keep working at it. As long as they have the drive, then there’s a way. The pathway is there, they just need to grab it and run with it.”

Now in its eleventh year, the retail meat industry’s annual recognition for a lifetime of commitment, fervour and perseverance to enhance the trade, was set up in honour of Geof Christie, a butcher and tutor of trainee butchers in polytechnics, whose passion for his trade was tireless.

Jason Trewern, president of Retail Meat New Zealand for the past three years, and instrumental in the selection of Riki says he is delighted the award has gone to Riki;“He’s a great role model and leader and has worked passionately to support young butchers coming into the trade. Coutndown’s success in the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice competition in recent years is testament to that,” says Trewern. “He’s given many hours of his time to support industry events and butchery competitions over the years both as a judge and competitor of high distinction.”

Riki Kerekere joins an esteemed list of other Christie Award recipients that includes The Mad Butcher, Sir Peter Leitch; Todd Heller, founder of Hellers NZ and butcher and Beef + Lamb New Zealand CEO, Rod Slater amongst others.

James Smith from PAK’nSAVE, Pukekohe has won the prestigious Alto Young Butcher of the Year title, Blair Wright from Peter Timbs Meats in Christchurch was crowned ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice and Rob Lees from Warkworth Butchery took out the Pure South Master Butcher title.

James Smith, one of the pre-competition favourites and a Hellers Sharp Black, was delighted with his win. “There’s been a lot of stress and hard work on my part to get here. I’ve been in a lot of competitions over the years, so I am really pleased to finally take out the title.”

Finalists were chosen in September following five tightly fought regional competitions in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, involving over 40 competitors. The six young butchers and six apprentices in the two categories went head-to-head in a spectacular battle of the butchers that saw knives flashing, bandsaws humming and mincers grinding.

The two-hour cutting test required competitors to keep their nerve and showcase their expertise in front of a team of eight judges. Both the Alto Young Butcher competitors and the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentices were tasked with breaking down a size 20 chicken, a whole pork leg, a beef short loin, and one mystery cut, a lamb forequarter, into a display of value-added products.

In addition to this, the apprentices were also expected to complete a 30 question, multiple choice exam and an interview with the judges as part of their route to glory.

The Pure South Master Butcher competition was open to all qualified butchers 31 years and older. This category saw six of New Zealand’s master butchers battle it out on their own pitch, giving the Alto Young Butchers a more level playing field. Competitors in this category had two hours to break down a beef banjo and a whole lamb and impress the judges with their value-added display.

Rob Lees, who only agreed to enter the competition in a deal with his apprentice, was pleased he took home the whopping $3,500 cash prize.

“You’ve got to back yourself in these competitions, but I am definitely surprised to have won. It’s taken a lot of practice, but it’s gone smoothly tonight. I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the ANZCO Foods Butcher Apprentice category provides an invaluable opportunity for those just starting out in the industry.

This was highlighted today by Blair Wright of Peter Timbs Meats in Christchruch who was the youngest competitor on show today, having only just turned 19. “It’s awesome I’ve won, I’m totally blown away. I’ve put in hours of practice, repetition was key to get everything perfect.”

Head Judge Peter Martin, butchery manager of Fresh Choice in Cromwell, is a strong advocate of butchery competitions.

“I’ve been to all the regionals and I’ve seen passion for the industry and hunger from individuals. That passion – and the skills they possess – shines through and shows in the displays produced tonight. It actually makes judging not very fun because of how difficult it is to decide a winner.”

The competition is proudly sponsored by Alto Packaging, ANZCO Foods, Pure South, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Competenz, Dunninghams, Hellers, Tegel and Wilson Hellaby.

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