PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

February 10, 2014

PA meat cutter carving through the competition

PORT ARTHUR — Frigid conditions, sharp knives and hundreds of pounds of raw beef might not sound like paradise, but for Raul Ipina, it’s just right.

Ipina is a meat cutter at the Texas Roadhouse in Port Arthur, spending more than 50 hours a week in a 34-degree cooler bundled up in a beanie, coat and gloves. He’s also a semi-finalist in the A1 National Meat Cutting Challenge, a competition put on to test the skills of hundreds of meat cutters from across the nation, the top prize being $20,000 and being labeled a cut above the rest.

And for Ipina it’s all about the final product and the precision required to get the best steak possible out of the finest cut of meat available.

“It’s about quality,” Ipina said, surrounded by glistening fresh-cut sirloin and ribeye steaks. “Every single cut I make goes straight to the plate.”

It’s the love for the job that keeps him honing his skills, so much so that he said if it weren’t for his bills, he could do it for free.

As he hovered over a cutting table, 12-inch knife in hand, he called out the weight of his next cut in advance. “11 ounces,” he said with a sure tone. With one slow careful slice from the blade he separated a portion of meat from the larger slab. Then with a simple flip Ipina tossed the sirloin on the scale with the numbers on the scale confirming Ipina’s abilities, reading a perfect 11oz.

It’s this precise skill that will have him competing at the Ice Factory in Kissimmee, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, with another 80 cutters all vying for the coveted top spot. If he places in the competition Tuesday, he can  move on to another semi-final down to 28 cutters eyeing a position in the final eight.

Clyde Davis, kitchen manager, will be driving with Ipina to the competition. He’s proud to see his cutter make it so far and thinks that he could very well take the top spot.

“It creates a pride factor to have a rep from our store competing at that level,” Davis said. Each store sent two cutters and for Ipina to be standing were he is shows just how much the fresh cut steaks mean to their location.

For Ipina it isn’t just the competition, it’s the pride that comes from doing well for a company he respects so much.

“The company is amazing, it’s like a family,” Ipina said.

Ipina doesn’t relay any nervousness but did speak about how difficult it can be cutting the meat with 300 people milling about, whispering about the contestants. He just remembers it’s quality first, every time.

“I can feel in my hand how much it weighs,” Ipina said. “It’s all in your eyes and hands.”

email: cedgerton@panews.com

Twitter: @cedgerton13

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