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Port Moody woman primed for Canada's debut at butcher Olympics

The international butcher competition was originally scheduled for 2020, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic
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Taryn Barker, of The Little Butcher in Port Moody, is sharpening her skills to help Canada compete at the World Butcher Challenge in September. The competition was orginally supposed to be held in 2020, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Port Moody woman is primed to show Canada’s butchers are a cut above the rest of the world.

Taryn Barker, of The Little Butcher in NewPort Village, is part of Butchery Canada, a team of six butchers set to represent the country at the World Butcher Challenge, Sept. 2 and 3 in Sacramento, Calif.

The competition — a kind of Olympics for some of the best butchers in the world — was supposed to happen two years ago, but it was put on ice by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s given Barker and her teammates more time to sharpen their skills and carve their creativity that will be required to transform sides of beef and pork, a whole lamb and five chickens into about 70 different flavourful and visually-enticing value-added cuts and products.

This is the first time Canada is sending a team to the international event, held every two years.

On the floor of the Golden One Centre, home to the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association (NBA), 16 teams will have three hours and 15 minutes to carve, concoct and present elaborate drool-worthy displays that include garnishes, pastries, produce and dishes, all of which have to be acquired locally or shipped beforehand.

Among other elements, their efforts will be judged on how well they represent the unique characteristics of their country's cuisine.

Barker will be one of two “finishers” on Canada’s team, responsible for making the handiwork of the carvers look its absolute best for the judges and spectators in the stands or watching online.

She said she’s been able to use the extra prep time to mine the internet for new ideas, experiment with ingredients and presentation and forge a stronger connection with her teammates, who come from Ontario, Alberta and one other from B.C.

The team was only able to meet virtually because of travel restrictions during the early stages of the pandemic, but as those have eased, they’ve been gathering in person every month.

They brainstorm products, practice their responsibilities and refine their efficiency as any cut of meat that’s left behind means a deduction of points.

Barker said as a newcomer to the competition, Canada will be up against countries where butchery techniques and presentation have evolved decades longer. But what they may lack in experience, they hope to make up with innovation.

“Teams that have been together for a long time will have the efficiency, but I don’t know how creative they’ll be,” said Barker, who’s previously competed at individual events in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.

With the weeks counting down to the competition, Barker said Canada’s practices have been getting more intense.

And just like sports teams, each is followed by a thorough debrief to determine better ways members can work together so not a moment is wasted and everyone is able to operate at the top of their game.

“It’s down to the crunch,” Barker said, adding the team has even invited observers to its most recent practices to simulate the kind of scrutiny under pressure they’ll be facing in the arena.

In the days leading up to the competition, the team will ship a pallet of implements and accoutrements to Sacramento — many of them contributed by sponsors like Carmello Vadacchino of Cook Up — and, once they’re on site, they’ll be heading to local shops and farmers markets for the produce and other products that will be integrated into their final displays.

Barker said while the nerves and excitement are starting to build, she’s looking forward to waving Canada’s culinary flag and hopefully inspire young people to take up the trade.

“There’s cool things you can do as a butcher.”