Aspiring Invercargill chef Stefenpon Sitinjak has taken out top place at the Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge 2020.
Sitinjak, a demi chef at Invercargill’s Ascott Park Hotel, competed alongside five other finalists to take the top prize at the final event held in Auckland recently.
Winning a $3,000 cash prize and a year-long ambassadorial role, Sitinjak will now go on to represent New Zealand at the Lee Kum Kee International Young Chinese Culinary Chefs Competition in Hong Kong next September.
Just the second time it’s been held in New Zealand, the qualifying competition was open to all chefs under the age of 40 either working or training in New Zealand.
Sponsored by Gilmours and Trents, aspiring chefs were required to enter a Chinese or Chinese-inspired dish by email and video, using a minimum of three Lee Kum Kee sauces or condiments and a main ingredient of beef, lamb, pork, chicken, salmon or vegetables.
With a total of 15 entries received from around New Zealand, the six finalists selected to compete in the qualifier included:
• Amy Klitscher, 26, head chef at the Sustainable Food Co, Auckland. A certified vegan chef with experience in both plant-based and Chinese regional cuisine, Amy presented a vegetarian dish of ‘golden seared oyster ‘scallops’ with coconut bacon and cauliflower miso puree’.
• Jomel Bartolome, 38, sous chef at Northstar Motel Bar & Restaurant, Oamaru. With experience in western and Asian fusion cooking and baking, Jomel presented a dish of roasted sweet pork belly topped with mango salsa, steamed jasmine rice, pickled pumpkin and fried shallots.
• Paul Duncan, 34, head chef at Anise Private Chef and Catering, Auckland. With experience in Asian fusion, Paul’s dish was Chinese beef cheek, lotus root, caramelised shallot puree, shitake mushroom, okra and crispy kale.
• Saranphat Srivorawat, 30, chef at Grasshopper Restaurant & Bar at Stamford Plaza, Auckland. With expertise in Asian fusion, Thai and Chinese fusion, Saranphat presented BBQ lamb with black pepper sauce, with crisp veges and steamed rice.
• Stefenpon Sitinjak, 35, demi chef at Ascott Park Hotel, Invercargill. Stefenpon prepared chicken and mushroom steam rice, with red eggs, prawn, pork, caramelised soy sauce and calamansi sauce.
• Tunlapat Wattasomsiri, 36, cookery student at Western Institute of Technology. Tunlapat presented Manuka honey hokey pokey soy chicken, a Chinese inspired dish using molecular gastronomy and modern cooking techniques.
Battling it out in front of a live audience at the Auckland Seafood School, contestants had 90 minutes to make and present their dish to judges Paulie Hooton, head chef at the Auckland Seafood School and former head chef at Oyster Inn on Waiheke Island; Mark Dronjak, a seasoned chef with over 40 years in the kitchen and a wealth of published work across radio, newspapers and magazines; and Acton International Marketing senior brand manager Joanne Hall.
Cooking competitions are tough, said Dronjak. “It’s challenging walking in to a strange kitchen and being expected to perform at your best.
“While all the contestants did a great job, Sitinjak put up an excellent dish with lovely flavours and use of ingredients.”
With both Chinese- and Malaysian-influences, Hooton described the winning dish as being “beautifully flavoured – every mouthful right down to the wonderfully fragrant coconut infused rice. I would have happily eaten a whole plate.”
“Sitinjak showed a real understanding of the ingredients, he used almost all the Lee Kum Kee ingredients on offer, and he worked in a very methodical, calm and clean manner. A humble guy with a big future we think.”
Launched in 2014 by Lee Kum Kee with the aim of nurturing Chinese culinary talent and providing a platform for Chinese culinary exchange, the LKKIYCCCC is held every two years.
The first New Zealand challenge in 2018 saw local winner Xiayi Luo from Elim Hospitality travel to Hong Kong to compete against representatives from over 20 countries and regions including China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Netherlands, United States, Canada, Columbia, France, Czech Republic and Australia, the winner taking home a cash prize of HK $130,000.
Alisdair Methven, National Key Account Manager for Acton NZ – Lee Kum Kee’s sole distributor in New Zealand – said Acton are delighted Stefenpon will represent New Zealand.
“We may be a relatively small player on the global stage, but New Zealand has a strong tradition in Chinese cooking and there is real innovation happening across Asian cuisines here, whether it be Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, Japanese or Asian fusion.
“There is really scope for a Kiwi to be a contender at the final. The opportunity to compete against the best-of-the-best globally also provides the winner with a real opportunity for inspiration and exchange of ideas and the opportunity to really elevate their Chinese culinary artistry.
“We hope Stefenpon enjoys the opportunity and are excited to see how he does.”
With a while to wait until the global final in Hong Kong next September, Stefenpon will spend the next year acting as ambassador for Lee Kum Kee which Methven says will include representing the brand at trade shows.
All finalists walked away with more than $200 of Lee Kum Kee products.
Gilmours Marketing Lead Nadia Lopes said both Gilmours and Trents congratulate Stefenpon. “As suppliers to thousands of restaurants and hospitality venues across the country, we are delighted to help support both the growth of developing chefs like Stefenpon and Asian cuisine here in New Zealand.”
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 2020 Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge was supported by Gilmours and Trents.