I was so lucky to be a guest at the annual Nestle Toque d’Or competition again this year. Being a guest basically involves attending the competition ‘pop-up’ restaurant where teams from ten culinary arts institutions served a three-course meal matched with wine. This is the biggest culinary arts competition in New Zealand and teams have been perfecting and practising their culinary and restaurant service skills for months in readiness for the July competition. I am always impressed by both the standard and creativity of their cookery skills and can see why these young people are aiming for the top!
Teams are made up of two chef students in the kitchen and a front of house student who is judged on their silver service skills. The three-hour live kitchen cook-off involves preparing, plating and serving a three-course meal using specific ingredients for each course. The main course protein this year was New Zealand lamb and as a sponsor of the competition, I am always interested in how they work with this protein to make it the hero of the dish.
Each team came up with some unique and creative ways of combining both the prime cut of a lamb rack and the secondary cut of lamb shoulder. With time restraints, it’s not always easy to get the secondary cut tender and flavoursome, but under pressure all the teams worked well and achieved a high standard on the day. Dishes ranged from a Scottish inspired theme featuring a Spelt and Haggis jus, to a lamb rack baked in hay and a Teriyaki style lamb shoulder pop!
The winning combination though went to Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Rotorua. Their main course of lamb featured a crusted New Zealand prime lamb rack and Loukaniko (Greek) sausage with spicy kumara, black garlic cake, honey roasted parsnip, glazed Asian greens and baby carrots finished with black pepper sauce. Not only did they win the overall top prize with gold medals for the culinary students and silver for the front of house, they won the innovation award for their use of the Nestlé products which were compulsory to use.
For these students, winning such a prestigious award puts them at the forefront in the hospitality world to go on and begin rewarding careers once they graduate. In the words, internationally renowned guest judge Thomas Gugler, from Germany made the comment “you are all winners by just being at the competition”, with that kind of encouragement and inspiration surely these young people will go on to create great things and become our chefs of the future, showcasing the wonderful home grown produce New Zealand is becoming so famous for!