The knives were out…as were the smoking machines, sous vide ovens, vacuum sealers and a vast array of pots, pans, jugs and plates. Sixteen of the most talented hospitality students in New Zealand took on the ultimate food battle in South Auckland – the chance to win the coveted title of 2018’s National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge, and to win one of two scholarships with City & Guilds.
Maggie Carroll and Lisa Khorozova, of Burnside High School in Christchurch were declared the winners of the competition, with their dishes:
Entrée: Tomato Tart with Fresh Tomato & Basil Salad, Manuka Smoke Tomato Foam and Goats Cheese, accompanied by a Rich Tomato Sauce
Main: Chicken Breast with Broad Bean Farce on Truffle Potato Puree with Petite Crumbed Sausage, Seasonal Vegetables with Jus and Tarragon Cream Sauce
“We really didn’t think we’d win – we had to rush the plating at the end!” says Liza. “We hoped for a silver medal, but to win is amazing.” “Our flavours worked well together though, and we get on as a team – even when we were stressed, we weren’t stressed at each other,” agrees Maggie. “Our teacher told us to be fast Ferraris – and it obviously worked!”
All the winners were chosen by a panel of six judges: Mark Wylie (Head Judge and National Account Sales Manager at Southern Hospitality Ltd), Ben Bayly (Co-owner/Chef, The Grounds, Henderson), Gareth Stewart (Executive Chef, Nourish Group), Jeremy Schmidt (Owner/Chef The Officers Mess), Craig Lucas (Chef Lecturer, MIT) and Liam Fox (Owner/Chef Forte Greene). Teams were judged on a number of criteria including taste, presentation, innovation, creativity, hygiene and wastage (teams lose marks for unnecessary food or packaging waste). The event was MC’d by food consultant Israel Evers.
Now in its sixth year, at a dinner at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) in Otara, Auckland, the National Secondary Schools Culinary Championships (NSSCC) is the largest secondary school culinary competition in the country. Finalists are selected from regional heats in Northland/North Auckland, South Auckland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury/Nelson/Marlborough, and Otago/Southland.
In the final, students have 90 minutes to prepare, cook and present four individually-plated portions each of an entrée and a main course. The entrée must contain fresh New Zealand-grown tomatoes as the principal component of the dish; the main course had to consist of a portion of Waitoa free range chicken breast, skin on and bone in, and include three fresh New Zealand-grown vegetables, one of which must be a potato.
“Each year we continue to be impressed with the standard and expertise of the skills shown by the students,” says Head Judge Mark Wylie. “It’s a reflection of both the students’ efforts and that of their tutors, who bring a great game to the table every year. This year we saw a lot of skills that mirror what is happening at the moment in the industry – it’s impressive to see how current the students’ skills are.”
Wylie says picking a winner wasn’t easy. “The technical skills, like the butchering and cooking techniques have been outstanding – two of the floor judges, Ben Bayly and Jeremy Schmidt, said that they would happily give any of the students competing today a job in their kitchens. To get an accolade like that from chefs of their calibre is impressive – all the finalists should be very proud.”
Isabella Viakai, from Manurewa High School, and Sam Ashmore, from Te Awamutu College, were also awarded scholarships to study at any City & Guilds-approved tertiary education site.
Glenn Fulcher, Trustee of the Culinary Arts Development Trust, an organisation which was formed to manage culinary competitions like NSSCC, says the continuing rise in skill level through the years shows how much potential there is for young people to succeed in the hospitality industry in New Zealand. “All our main regions were covered this year, which shows the level of skill and creativity we are seeing in schools across the country,” he says. “The competition gives students from each region a taste of real working pressure and exposure to industry heavyweights, as well as experience working as a team to develop menus, plate dishes and work in tune with each other. Days like this are there so the judges can select the best students on the day, see if they can find the spark in the students’ eyes, and can ask themselves the ultimate question: would I hire this person to work in my restaurant? It’s an incredible opportunity for them.”
NSSCC 2018 Finalist Schools, Competitors and Tutors:
- WelTec Trades Academy – Latisha Robinson & Thanakorn Poungsang
(Tutor: Toby Sanderson)
- Napier Girls High School – Kelsey Stubbs & Alannah Grant
(Tutur: Rachel Pollet)
- Whanganui High School – Britney Walsh & Caitlyn Butlin
(Tutor – Linda Hardcastle)
- Burnside High School – Maggie Carroll & Liza Khorozova
(Tutor: Kristie Hanley)
- Kings High School – Liam Hynd & Nickolas Bryan
(Tutor – Hannah Cromarty)
- Manurewa High School – Isabella Vaikai & Elizabeth Malaki
(Tutor – Sara Blackburn)
- Long Bay College – Bara Kralova & Aimee Pugh
(Tutor – Amber Rinkin)
- Te Awamutu College – Morgan McKenzie & Sam Ashmore
(TIC – Will Cawkwell)