Dining With Denise Neil

Texas Roadhouse butchers have plenty at stake in meat-cutting contest Monday

Texas Roadhouse butchers show how a steak is cut

Experienced Texas Roadhouse butchers Lorenzo Martinez and his younger brother, Sergio, will both compete at a meat-cutting competition on the rink at Wichita Ice Center.
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Experienced Texas Roadhouse butchers Lorenzo Martinez and his younger brother, Sergio, will both compete at a meat-cutting competition on the rink at Wichita Ice Center.

The rink at the Wichita Ice Center will be filled with fierce competitors next week, but none of them will be wearing skates and all of them will be wielding long, sharp knives, prepared to chop and slice their way to victory.

The ice center at 505 W. Maple will be the site of an unusual competition on Monday — a meat-cutting challenge that will attract the top 33 slicers from Texas Roadhouse restaurants across the Midwest, including from Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City, Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

The competitors will take to the ice at 11 a.m., and 150 feet of rugs will be put down to prevent drippage and slippage. The public is welcome to watch the butchers competing for a chance to advance to the company’s semi-final and final rounds in March in Nashville, where the top chopper will earn a $20,000 prize.

The steakhouse chain, whose restaurants all feature steaks cut on site daily, employs hundreds of butchers in their stores across the country, and they’re probably the most valuable employees in each restaurant, said John Head, a former Texas Roadhouse meat cutter himself who now is a product manager for the region.

The competition provides an incentive for those employees, who cut to perfection 1,000 pounds of meat on a busy day, Head said. On a not-so-busy day, they still slice up about 500 pounds of meat, and the steaks must be exact cuts. Avoiding waste is a top priority, and butchers who achieve minimum waste earn bonuses.

Wichita will have four butchers competing on Monday, and two of them have years of experience with the competition.

Lorenzo Martinez, who has hand cut steaks at the Texas Roadhouse on West Kellogg since it opened in 2004, will be among the top competitors at a meat cutting competition on the ice at Wichita Ice Center on Monday. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

Lorenzo Martinez, 45, is one of the original butchers at the west-side Texas Roadhouse, 6707 W. Kellogg, and he’s been working there since the day the restaurant opened 15 years ago. His younger brother, Sergio, 31, joined him six months later. Lorenzo has made it to the semifinals of the contest seven times over his career, and he’s landed a spot in the top 20 twice. Sergio made it to the semifinals last year.

“It’s very technical,” said Head, who started his cutting career at the west Texas Roadhouse in Wichita. “The cutting is very technical, and it takes a lot to develop the skills to be able to produce at a high level.”

One of the Martinez brothers is at the restaurant every day, and on weekends, they work together in the small, 35-degree walk-in cooler in the back of the restaurant’s kitchen. They argue sometimes, Lorenzo said with a laugh, but only at the beginning of the shift. After that, it’s all business as they tenderize, slice, measure, weigh and repeat, over and over. They do all of this wearing heavy sweatshirts and wielding long, scary-looking knives.

Lorenzo said he and his brother both worked in the kitchen in Willie C’s before moving to Texas Roadhouse, where both started their butchering careers.

The competition is fun, Lorenzo said, and it’s also inspirational to meet meat cutting professionals who do his job in other Texas Roadhouse restaurants across the country.

Though he’s one of the best, he still has things to learn, he said.

“We learn from each other,” he said. “We’ll get together and talk about our jobs. You can always pick up new tricks for how to get better.”

At Monday’s competition, where the ice and cool temperatures will keep the meat in ideal shape, the 33 cutters will each be given 30 to 40 pounds of beef: one sirloin, one filet tenderloin and one whole rib eye muscle. They’ll be judged on the quality and yield of the steaks they produce, and their speed also will be considered. Monday’s round is technically a practice for the real elimination round, which happens in October, but there will be prizes awarded for the best cuts of filet, rib eye, and sirloin, as well for the overall winners. The competition should wrap up around noon.

In addition to the Martinez brothers, Wichita will be represented in the competition by Jorge Martinez and Carlos Zegarra Cusihualpa, who are the meat cutters at the newer Wichita Texas Roadhouse at 2526 N. Greenwich.

The competition is free for spectators.

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Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.