He’s the best young butcher in Australia and he’s from Tambo.
Stephen Turnbull, who has been working at Carey Brothers butchery in Warwick since 2011, won the butchering category at the WorldSkills 2018 national championships in Sydney in early June.
The biennial competition, consisting of 50 categories, tests apprentices, trainees, young tradespeople, and VET graduates from around Australia with set tasks over three days, adhering to strict judging criteria and in a race against the clock.
The announcement was a shock to Stephen, who was second in the regional final held in Toowoomba, and only got to compete nationally at the last moment.
“I didn’t think at all that I’d win but it will be a good tick on my resume, and now I’ve been told of two overseas scholarships I could try for,” he said.
Just as pleased were his parents, Andrew and Heather Turnbull, from Narada at Tambo, and his boss, Wayne Carey.
“For his age, he’s well and truly ahead of his time,” Mr Carey said.
“He understands that some days are busier and offers to get more done.
“He’s a thinker, he gets business, and he deals well with customers.
“I’m so lucky to have him; you know he’ll do it the right way, and he thinks of new things we could introduce.”
Stephen’s inventive mind came to the fore during the three days of testing when random challenges were thrown at the seven finalists, from Queensland, NSW, Tasmania and South Australia.
A mystery challenge consisted of a surprise box of vegetables, a pork shoulder and a few other delicatessen-style ingredients, which which they were told to produce four different food items with.
Stir fry was an obvious choice but Stephen also opted to stuff pork pockets with pesto and wrap them in bacon.
This and knife sharpening and sausage speed link tests, both won by Stephen, were in addition to the main task being testing each day – the first was to break down a trunk of pork, followed by a whole lamb carcase, completed by a beef forequarter on the final day.
“The judges gave us instructions to follow and looked at everything, from how we appeared to how we followed those instructions,” Stephen explained. “For example, when we were breaking them down, spare ribs had to be exactly 20cm and so on.”
One of the big challenges was doing all the work with a handsaw and getting bones as clean as possible, in a test of the skills of old.
“It’s not what we do in the shop, to that extent, but they want to see it for yield and productivity reasons,” Stephen said.
To prepare, he came to work on weekends or stayed back after work to practise.
Stephen qualified as a butcher in 2014 and said it was one of the jobs he’d always enjoyed doing at home at Narada.
“It’s not viable for us all to be home on the place and expect it to give us all a living, so this is a way for me to value-add, and I can relate it back to life on the property,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s keen to follow up the scholarship opportunities, a leadership camp in the UK, and 12 months work in Europe and the UK, saying it would be good to see how others ply their butchering trade.
“I think they focus a lot on their displays,” he said.
While some of the other national trade category winners will be going on to represent Australia in the WorldSkills international championships, or “tradie Olympics”, in Kazan, Russia next year, if Stephen goes, it will be as a demonstration participant only, as butchery is not one of the international competition categories.
In the meantime, his win has gotten his customers in Warwick talking.
It’s also another feather in the cap for the Carey Brothers business, which is a state Sausage King RNA award winner for its pork sausages.
The butchery won first and second places for its smallgoods at the Ekka in 2011, and Mr Carey said Stephen’s success showed the business’s ongoing versatility.
“It displays we do everything here – that was the key to his success,” he said.
“Some butchers don’t break a beast up, but we cure meat and everything.
“We’ve always taught our apprentices all facets of the business.”
Carey Bros has built its reputation by selecting, processing and selling only prime beef, lamb and pork produced on local farms in the Darling Downs Region.