Mark Williams is a National Craft Butchery Apprenticeship Instructor on the MSLETB National Craft Apprenticeship programme. This piece is based on his trip to Sacramento, California where he was a very proud member of #TeamIreland who participated at the World Butchery Challenge.
On Tuesday morning the 30/8/22 #TeamIreland meet up at Terminal 2 Dublin airport for their departure to Sacramento, California to participate in the World Butchers Challenge. Great excitement here as everyone gathers outside including the partners who meet each other for the first time that morning. At that moment you could already see the whole group become a team as we all line up to check in with Aer Lingus. A great sendoff by fellow colleagues from MSLETB - very much appreciated them for being there and their support. After a long flight and a stopover in Seattle we finally arrive in Sacramento at 11pm and go straight to our hotel.
Unable to sleep I get up at 5am and go for a walk around the area to see what America is like and it is just what I expected. The butchery world is a small community, as I walk around, I meet some of the Italian team, we had a good chat about the competition. I found the Golden 1 Center (home for the next few days of the competition), where I have a great conversation with a man, which proved extremely useful later on that morning! Back in the hotel everyone was up having breakfast and were just so excited to be there. I tell them about my walk and what I found. At this point the team want to see the arena. Down we go to it, there we met security like I had never seen before to get into an arena. But as luck would have it, the man I spoke to earlier in the morning was Head of Security, who brings us on a tour of the arena. (No other team got this VIP treatment!). Afterwards we spend time going around shops trying to replace items from our pallet of items which hadn’t arrived in America from Ireland. As part of the event all teams met up for a “Meet and Greet” on Wednesday evening. There I speak with one gentleman from Australia whose son Tom Bouuicher is on the Australian team. Back home in Australia, they have employed a few Irish people in their shops, one being a former employee of mine – small world!
Up and about early and back to the event center for a briefing and a chance to check out all our equipment. The famous pallet still hasn’t made it to Sacramento, so we have to check what we are missing. We then set off enquiring from each team about what they had that we could borrow! Once we gathered what we could we go back to the hotel, take over one of the bedrooms and redesign our whole table with what trays and stands we had. Another “Meet and Greet” that evening where we spent our time chatting to the other international teams who were extremely interested in the Craft Butchery apprenticeship programme.
Early start again as Patrick Byrnes, the first apprentice from County Limerick to compete in the World Butchers’ Challenge is competing this morning. Meet him the lobby of the hotel and walk with him to the arena. After the photo shoot the team help Patrick set up all his equipment needed for the day. Back up to the stands and with Irish flags and banners, we all support Patrick with only the energy a group of Irish supporters can bring to any event. (From the noise you would think there were hundreds of us). Patrick and his family should be so proud of what he did and achieved on the day. After we cleaned down, washed, and packed everything away, it was time for us to be given an official tour of the arena, and review the plan of events for tomorrow. It was then time to rest and get ready for the big event.
The big day has arrived, all those Sundays spent training in Murphy’s Butchers in Tullow, County Carlow were about to be put to effective use. The team assemble at 6am in the hotel lobby. Our team of supporters were there to send us off with a pep in our step and a belief in ourselves and our ability to achieve. As the six of us walk to the arena we go over everything we have to do and how we would support each other during the event.
First job was everybody into their full uniform and full working gear. Then all off for team photos. We prepare our tables and all items needed for the competition (the pallet still hadn’t arrived!) The next event was a great honour- as #TeamIreland were given the opportunity to lead the parade of all the international competitors. As we walk around the arena the crowd stood and clapped and cheered us on. But over all the other countries the support from the Irish supporters was heard loud and clear. The competition starts and all 6 of us work our socks off and thankfully everything goes as planned. As the time was drawing to a close, we went all out for the finish and as the final whistle sounded, we did it all, trays were full, all meat was used and everything was cleaned down, we were done and dusted.
The cheering, singing, and shouting from all our supporters was only wonderful. After the competition I walk the full arena and shook hands with every butcher in the competition, it was such a privilege to be part of such an event. After the judges were finished, we then had to clean down and pack away all our equipment and return any equipment borrowed. By 6.30pm we leave the arena, and I can say as we walked up that street, just about able to put one-foot in front of the other - we were all totally wrecked. But we were six very proud Irish people, knowing we had done our best and our work looked fantastic.
Up early again and down to the arena, all our equipment had to be removed and brought back to the hotel and to those who kindly let us borrow items from them. We now had a few hours to see the sights. We visit the old town, which is a great place, we buy a few items to prove we were actually in America! Up to one hotel room to divide up the equipment to travel home, so nobody had to pay for excess luggage!
The Gala Dinner - it was now time to let the ladies shine, and every one of them did, looking radiant, the most beautiful ladies at the dinner. It was very hard to concentrate on the dinner as we were waiting patiently for the results of the competition. First was Patrick’s section and alas he did not finish in the top three however we are all so proud of him. Then came the individual product awards and #TeamIreland are named as the winners of the best pork sausage in the world. (Only brilliant). To top it off, Paul Hamilton was given the accolade of winning his well-deserved place in the “Global Team” of the event. (Even better than brilliant). We were so sorry that we didn’t reach the overall final three – we were deflated and lost for words (Even me!). When we got the full results, it showed we were only 2 points away from reaching 3rd place and 7.5 points of winning the overall event (which France won!). However, we did wonderfully well and to come home with the prizes we won was brilliant.
Up early again this morning all bags have to be packed, then downstairs for breakfast and a full post-mortem on everything we did and could we have done better. The answer to that question is no - as a team we performed brilliantly and did a fantastic job, an experience we are all proud of and can’t wait to get back at it again. Then it’s time to sign out and leave at 9.30am back to the airport for our flight home.
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