By Steve Hubrecht 

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It’s official: Invermere has the best butcher in the province. 

Local butcher and Konig Meat and Sausage Company co-owner Micheal Hecken recently travelled to the Lower Mainland to take part in the first-ever B.C. Best Butcher competition, and came out the winner.

Hecken has been butchering for nearly three decades, since he was a kid growing up in Germany’s Rhineland, and has either worked at or co-owned Konig, on Invermere’s main street, for nearly two decades. In other words, he’s pretty experienced when it comes to chopping meat. Still, when he took to the competition floor in Pitt Meadows on May 4, lined up with 17 of B.C.’s top butchers, he couldn’t help noticing that most of the other competitors seemed older and more experienced than him.

“They all looked pretty confident,” Hecken told the Pioneer.

As Hecken’s fellow Konig co-owner Craig McGowan put it, “he (Hecken) was easily the young guy out there.”

So Hecken did what he does best: put his head down, and started cutting, deftly, efficiently, and with the kind of skill that comes from nearly 30 years of practice.

In the first round of the competition each butcher had 45 minutes to turn a middle cut of pork, a cut of beef and a chicken into as many ready-to-retail cuts as possible. It was meant to measure skill and speed. All the fat had to be trimmed out, but butchers were penalized for wasting too much meat. 

Hecken was one of three butchers to qualify for the final round. In the final each butcher was given a pork leg and access to garnishes, seasoning, and sauce and had 30 minutes to make as many value-added, ready-to-cook cuts as possible. 

Speed was crucial here too, but so was creativity in using the garnishes and seasoning, and the ability to size up the pork leg and figure out how to maximize the meat in it.

With the clock ticking down, the other two finalists turned out five value-added cuts. In the final seconds Hecken managed to churn out his sixth value-added cut — a set of pork skewers — and claim the top place trophy.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I thought I was going to run out of time, but in the end I managed to make five or six skewers and those were the difference. It was pure speed. I didn’t really have a plan before I started, I just made it up as I went.”

McGowan was in the Columbia Valley, watching the competition unfold via a Facebook live stream.

“It was thrilling,” said McGowan. “I’m so proud of him.”

Hecken may have been surprised at his win, but not McGowan. “His (Hecken’s) ability to make the most out of a piece of meat is amazing.”

Hecken first started butchering when he was nine years old, by helping his dad, who worked as the unofficial butcher in the town where Hecken was raised. Hecken then got his official start in the butcher trade when he became an apprentice at age 15. In 2006 he moved to the Columbia Valley, on a work visa, to butcher at Konig. Eventually he and McGowan took over the business.

“I just enjoy it,” Hecken said of butchering. “I like taking the meat and making something pretty out of it, something that people will look forward to having for dinner and that will be part of a nice meal for them.”

Hecken is now 38 years old, and that fact it was immediately apparent how much younger he was than his fellow competitors points to a growing problem in the butcher business: very few young people are entering the trade.

And indeed, part of the reason that BC Meats inaugurated the competition this year was to help attract more attention to butchering as a career option.

“There is always a shortage of new butchers, but now it’s worse than ever before. It’s a dying art,” said Hecken.