Sacramento: Home of the 2020 World Butchers’ Challenge
Tony Bennett once sang, “I left my heart in San Francisco”. Yet I’m pretty sure Sacramento, only 121 km north of San Fran, managed to steal a huge part of mine. As I sit here on the plane, thinking about the past week and staring at the white space on the screen in front of me, I don’t really know where to begin. To be honest, I’m unsure I can find the words to clearly convey the experience I had in the capital city of California and after meeting the people of the city, I so badly want to do them justice by choosing the right ones.
So, I’ll start with the people. After waiting over five hours for Rod Slater (WBC Chairman) and I to arrive through customs at San Fran International – that’s a story for another time – Betsy Longmire (Visit Sacramento) and Danny Johnson (Butchers of America Team Captain) welcomed us with massive smiles and without a word of complaint. We met Danny at the 2018 World Butchers’ Challenge in Belfast and although I’d never met Betsy before, I felt as if I knew her just as well from the number of emails we’d exchanged throughout the bidding process. Betsy and Danny chatted to us the whole way back to Sacramento, summarising plans for the following days and answering all of our questions, and although they spoke highly of what was in store – I certainly didn’t expect what was to come.
We checked into a beautiful new hotel, the Kimpton Sawyer, and being at the back of the Golden 1 Center, this was where I had my first glimpse of the arena. Seeing the huge LED screens outside displaying upcoming concerts and games cemented how global we are about to become. However, an early night it was – although the only one, and the following morning we joined the wider team at Visit Sacramento HQ. After presenting to Danny, Betsy, Paul Carras (Team USA), Tia Harrison (Team USA / The Butchers Guild) Mike Sophia and Carolyn Blucher (Visit Sacramento’s stellar events team) we headed to the arena for our first ‘official’ tour of the Golden 1 Center. The arena is home of the Sacramento Kings, was first opened by Sir Paul McCartney and more recently, host to JAY-Z, Tom Petty and Katy Perry.
You know what, I’m not going to completely ruin the surprise by telling you exactly what the arena is all about but just know this, I was left completely speechless – something that is truly a rare occurrence. From a security robot that patrols the perimeter, to a control room that can alter the temperature of a section based on someone’s tweet to VIP lounges that would rival any stadiums in the world, this place has to be seen to be believed. And I think it was when we walked onto the floor and looked up at the thousands of arena seating rows and the largest stadium TV screen in the universe, that it truly hit me how far we’ve come. I am completely moved each time I think of our teams walking out onto the stadium to represent their country, doing something that they love and the feeling I hope that creates for them.
But as I said, I’m not going to say too much more other than watch this space as we share snippets of what’s in store as we lead up to 2020. After being completely overwhelmed by that incredible space, we met everyone for a meal at a local restaurant – Mulvaney’s – which has been converted from an old firehouse. Once again, we didn’t quite realise what was waiting for us as more people arrived to greet us and welcome us to their city. And this was another pivotal moment for me – when I understood what Sacramento was all about, and how hard people there have worked to completely live and breathe their ethos. They are known as the ‘Farm to Fork’ capital of the States and whoever I spoke to completely understood and appreciated the full supply chain. Here, farmers, butchers and chefs are mates, business partners and genuinely invested in supporting one another. And boy, have they created a connected community that is stronger than anywhere I’ve been or heard about. In fact, putting my Beef + Lamb New Zealand hat on – I believe we can learn so much from what they have achieved in Sacramento.
Another day that reinforced the whole community was behind the WBC was when we travelled further out to visit two ranches. The first was to Carrie Richard's ranch where she raises grass-fed beef, all while completely investing in a programme that's dedicated to restoring the land. Carrie took us out to see the cattle, and we were left feeling completely awed that she was able to show us the animals that would be raised for the challenge. Talking about ‘Farm to Fork’ – for me, this was case in point. Travelling back to Sacramento, we toured Llano Saco, a ranch that is hard to comprehend in terms of size as it covers the same land mass as San Francisco. And here, Jamie introduced us to where our pigs, excuse me – hogs, will be raised for the WBC. And just in case this aspect of the farm wasn’t impressive enough, we saw where they farmed organic corn, walnuts, beans and more. Being a city girl at heart, this was a once in a lifetime experience and something I know, those that are interested in the paddock to plate story, will revel in.
To top off the trip we experienced the most incredible food; the sights, sounds and dancefloors of Sacramento night life; toured through the city’s attractions, old and new; snapped photos until our batteries were flat and experienced hospitality at its finest.
But the one thing that rung true throughout was that the whole community of Sacramento is really coming together to pull this thing off. We were greeted everywhere with thanks for considering Sacramento as the 2020 host city, yet I left feeling as though I couldn’t thank them enough. Without a doubt, every single person we met has a ‘steak in the WBC’ (to quote Danny and also please excuse him for the pun) and being involved in the competition since its inception, is incredibly humbling. So, to all our new friends in Sacramento, from the bottom of my heart I thank you and to everyone else in the WBC family – don’t take my word for it. Make sure you get to Sacramento in 2020 and witness it for yourself. Believe you me, they’re ready for you!
- Ashley Hall, World Butchers' Challenge