Hospitality Business Magazine

Dunedin chef wins Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs 2023 Challenge

Aspiring Dunedin chef Quiel Mallari has won the top place title at the Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chefs Challenge for 2023.

Head chef at Magic Moments Restaurant in the Law Courts Hotel, Dunedin, Mallari competed alongside three finalists to take the top prize at the competition held in Auckland on October 9.

Open to all chefs under the age of 40, either working or training in New Zealand, the Gilmours and Trents sponsored competition required aspiring chefs to submit a Chinese or Chinese-inspired dish, using a minimum of three Lee Kum Kee sauces or condiments.

The four finalists selected to compete included:

  • Ake Phuengpha, 33, Mae Nam Khong restaurant in New Lynn, Auckland. Ake’s dish was steamed prawns with dry noodles and a fried wonton bowl.
  • Quiel Mallari, 30, head chef at the Magic Moments, Dunedin. Quiel presented a dish of steamed cod with soy dressing, topped with puffed vermicelli and a side of stir-fried greens, and Lo Rou Fan ginger rice surprise with braised pork, pickled cucumber and egg blanket.
  • 2022 competition winner Julius Caesar, 36, who is about to start at Josh Emett’s new Gilt Brasserie which opens in Auckland’s CBD later this month. Julius’ dish was Hainanese chicken rice, with crispy chicken skin, scallion oil, crispy garlic and chicken broth.
  • And 2021 competition winner Jacob Aomarere-Poole, 25 ,a sous chef at The Strongroom, Feilding. Jacob’s dish this year was stuffed honey chicken with beetroot jus and braised leek.

Held at Auckland’s Main Course venue on Monday October 9, contestants had 90 minutes to make and present their dish to a judging panel made up of Main Course owner Sonya Oyston, head chef at multiple Waitakere Licensing Trust restaurants, including Mr Illingsworth, Brick Lane, Iti, The Hangar and The Good Home, Paulie Hooton, and Mark Dronjak, a seasoned chef with over 40 years’ experience and a wealth of published work.

Taking home a $3,000 cash prize and the title of Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chef for 2023, the judges described Mallari as a “gifted chef with a great future ahead of him”.

While the competition was stiff, Quiel Mallari’s dish stood out for its complexity, originality and depth of flavour, said Dronjak.

“Quiel’s dish was a wonderful combination of flavours. There was a lot going on, lots of layers, with flavours that all worked beautifully together.”

“It was a really technical dish,” says Paulie Hooton. “Quiel was like a silent assassin, just quietly getting things done and made it look easy.”

The judges were particularly impressed by the ginger rice surprise, said Oyston. “The layers of egg blanket and braised pork hidden inside were a welcome surprise indeed.”

Mallari described the ginger rice as a riff on the traditional Taiwanese dish Lo Rou Fan. “But with pork mince instead of pork belly and an egg blanket rather than a hard boiled egg. The taste is sweet with a hint of five spice. The pickled cucumber adds acidity, and there’s plenty of pork fat to flavour the rice.”

With a decade’s cheffing experience, Mallari trained in the Philippines before moving to Auckland eight years ago to study business and hospitality management.

Working everywhere from a retirement village in Orewa, to Filipino restaurant Nanam in Takapuna and the acclaimed Culprit in the CBD, Mallari shifted to Dunedin a year ago to take up the head chef role at Magic Moments Restaurant, where he serves classic international pub food by day and fusion cuisine at night, making use of Otago’s local seasonal fresh produce.

Asked about his win, Mallari says he is very happy. “At first I was a bit anxious as some of the ingredients I wanted weren’t available, but I improvised. The team back in Dunedin will be very happy. Before the competition they were saying to me ‘No pressure, but make sure you bring back the prize!’ Now I am looking forward to sharing these creations with our restaurant patrons.” 

Delighted to see Quiel take out top honours, Glen McCracken, Head of Sales and Marketing atLee Kum Kee’s New Zealand distributor, Acton International Marketing, said New Zealand has a strong tradition in Asian cooking, with real innovation happening, whether it be Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, Japanese or fusion.

“We had finalists representing from all over New Zealand and saw four very different dishes on the judging table which was great and illustrates the versatility of Lee Kum Kee products in the kitchen, whether it be in restaurants or at home.”

Trents Category Manager in the South Island, Alex Cooper-Grieve, congratulated Quiel on the win. “At Trents and Gilmours, we love supporting emerging talent, and it’s wonderful to see a winner from the South Island.”

Renowned for inventing oyster sauce over 130 years ago, today Lee Kum Kee is one of the world’s most recognisable makers of authentic Chinese sauces and condiments and has been popular in both commercial and home kitchens across New Zealand since the 1970s. 

The 2023 Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge was supported by Gilmours and Trents.