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Bringing It Home
Sacramento to Host 2020 World Butchers’ Challenge
By Daniel Barnes
When Danny Johnson traveled to Dublin last March, his objective was to compete in the World Butchers’ Challenge, an international event that pits the most skilled butchers on the planet against each other. WBC started in 2011 as a two-team faceoff between New Zealand and Australia, but the competition expanded every year afterward. A record-high 12 countries sent teams to Ireland in 2018, the first year that the competition was conducted outside of Australia.
An Oregon Meat Cutting School graduate and longtime co-owner of Taylor’s Market and Taylor’s Kitchen, Johnson went to Dublin to captain the first-ever American team. However, like a skilled American espionage agent, Johnson also engaged in a secret side mission: try to convince the WBC Council to bring the 2020 competition to Sacramento.
The night before the competition, Johnson attended an open council meeting along with his teammate and Taylor’s Market meat department manager Paul Carras.
“As they were going through their agenda, they asked if there was anyone here that wants to submit a formal bid,” Johnson says. “I raised my hand and said I could do an informal bid.”
Johnson, who had already solicited support from Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg, Visit Sacramento, and local farmers and chefs, sold the council on Sacramento’s farm-to-fork credentials. He spoke about the potential to hold the competition at the state-of-the-art Golden 1 Center (no official venue agreement has been announced as of publication), he promised the enthusiastic support of city officials and the entire American butcher community, and he vowed to highlight local farmers and prevent food waste during the competition.
“I had already talked to some of the local chefs and formed a committee saying that if we get this thing here, make sure the food gets packaged and put where it needs to go, the food banks and stuff, after the event,” Johnson says. “They liked that idea, that nothing was going to be wasted.”
It wasn’t long before Johnson suspected that his informal bid made an instant impact. “At the closing remarks at the gala dinner, [WBC founder] Rod Slater said, ‘We have three countries vying for the 2020 challenge—Brazil, France and Sacramento.’ At that point, I said, ‘I think we might have hooked him.’” Sure enough, it was announced in July that Sacramento beat out Paris and Sao Paulo to host the next WBC, which will take place in September 2020.
“The council felt that Sacramento was best positioned to help successfully grow the competition and take it to that next level,” says WBC Council chief executive Ashley Hall. “It does feel as though the whole community banded together to create the bid.” Slater and Hall made their first visit to Sacramento in August, staying at the Kimpton Sawyer, touring the Golden 1 Center and meeting with potential sponsors in San Francisco.
They also visited the ranches in Moraga and Chico that will source most of the meat for the competition, which sees teams of butchers break down a side of beef, a side of pork, a whole lamb and five chickens into a themed display over three and a quarter hours. The theme of the American team’s display in 2018 was “sustainability.” “Out of the whole table, we had seven pounds of waste,” Johnson says. “The judges were actually looking under the table skirts to see if we were hiding any stuff.”
Visit Sacramento CEO Mike Testa considers WBC a natural fit for the city. “For us, it ties in well to that farm-to-fork vein,” he says. “We don’t always get the opportunity to highlight the proteins of farm-to-fork, it’s usually agriculture.” An existing relationship between Visit Sacramento and longtime farm-to-fork figurehead Johnson helped cut through any potential red tape. “We’ve known Danny for a long time, which is why when he brought the opportunity to us, it was kind of an instant credibility.”
While Johnson plans to remain heavily involved in planning and promoting the 2020 competition, he will also once again captain the American team, which hopes to improve upon their respectable sixth place finish in Dublin. Host country Ireland won the 2018 challenge, and Johnson sees a logistical advantage in competing on home turf. The American team has already settled on a theme for their 2020 display, but Johnson isn’t spilling the beans. “Two years gives us a lot of time to keep tweaking it.”
For his part, Hall can’t wait to introduce the spectacle of WBC to America. “The talent and skill of these butchers are second to none and watching the teams transform their displays in just over three hours is some of the most nail-biting, inspiring watching,” he says.
Daniel Barnes can be reached at email@example.com