B.C. man competes in world butchers' contest for love of the best cut of meat

·3 min read
Ronnie Keely, visiting Fraser Valley Meats in Chilliwack, B.C., in March, is one of the nine Canadian contestants at the World Butchers' Challenge held in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 2-3. (keelys_specialty_butcher/Instagram - image credit)
Ronnie Keely, visiting Fraser Valley Meats in Chilliwack, B.C., in March, is one of the nine Canadian contestants at the World Butchers' Challenge held in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 2-3. (keelys_specialty_butcher/Instagram - image credit)

Over the past decade, Kamloops butcher Ronnie Keely has been sharpening his meat cutting skills at his family business, which he will put to the test at an international butchers' competition this week.

Keely, who works at Kam Lake View Meats which is owned by his father, will be part of the nine-member Canadian team competing in the World Butchers' Challenge in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 2-3.

The event, which has been postponed for the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, started in 2011 as an annual contest to produce the best cuts of meat between butchers from Australia and New Zealand.

Two years later, it incorporated British contestants. Since 2016, it has become a biannual and more international event with the addition of France and more than a dozen other countries.

Organizers say the World Butchers' Challenge, last held in Belfast in 2018, is the world's largest butchers' competition, with over 100 butchers from 15 countries.

Canada making its debut 

It will be Team Canada's — and Keely's — first time in the competition. Keely says he couldn't be more excited about being a part of it, having watched the event on YouTube since its inception.

"There are some really talented people that I'm looking forward to meeting," he told CBC's Daybreak Kamloops. "This generation of butchers — they've been in it for so long."

Keely, 31, is one of two Canadians competing under the "Young Butcher" category for people under 35. Contestants are required to break down a beef rump on the bone, a side of lamb, a pork loin and two whole chickens into predetermined cuts within two hours and 30 minutes.

keelys_specialty_butcher/Instagram
keelys_specialty_butcher/Instagram

Organizers say contestants will utilize different seasonings and garnish to create meat products for display that are as innovative as they are cookable.

A panel of 15 judges will score the national teams of seasoned contestants, while five judges from Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand will score the "Young Butcher" contestants.

Team Canada captain, Hamilton, Ont.-based butcher Peter Baarda, says in 2019 he reached out to meat businesses across the country to see who was interested in joining the competition. He ended up with a list of 27 people, who were then selected for the nine-person team based on the creativity of the meat products they displayed on social media.

World Butchers' Challenge
World Butchers' Challenge

A family affair

Keely got his start working in the family business with his father after graduating high school and has a certificate in retail meat processing from Thompson Rivers University. He says he made the cut for the Canadian team thanks to his longtime enthusiasm for cutting and cooking meat.

"I enjoy it — I'm a hunter [and] fisher, so it [butchery] is a handy thing to know at the start, and then it grew on me."

keelys_specialty_butcher/Instagram
keelys_specialty_butcher/Instagram

His father, Ron Keely, says he's proud of his son's opportunity to participate in an important event for people in the meat processing industry.

"He's always wanted to be the best at what he does. It's definitely his livelihood, and he likes the idea of being able to compete … on the world level."