Tino Passano (back, centre).

Tino Passano, head chef at Waiheke Island’s Tantalus Estate Vineyard, has been named the Australasian Tapas Champion for 2019, earning a spot at the World Tapas competition in Spain later this year.

The high-pressure cook-off, held at Ignite Colleges’ cookery school in Manukau, drew 27 chefs from around the country. Competition was stiff but Passano wowed judges with his innovative take on a Kiwi classic – a Duncan venison, cacao, suet and harakeke sausage roll.

“I love sausage rolls myself, and I wanted to try something new and different with suet pastry,” said Passano. “The idea was to showcase New Zealand natives, and I was keen to use kawakawa, which we grow a lot of in the rejuvenated wetland areas of the estate. The peppery taste of kawakawa goes really well with venison.”

Passano has been head chef at the popular Tantalus Estate Vineyard for  the last 2 and a half  years, and prior to that was sous chef at Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant. Originally from South Africa, his experience also includes a stint in the UK working as a pastry chef. While he admits to feeling most at ease “out the back”, Passano was eager to showcase his skills in the public arena.

“To come out and do something like this is a challenge but I like it. It takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you keep growing as a chef. Plus, the prize and the opportunity to compete internationally is incredible.”

Competitors were given 25 minutes to produce their tapas dish and were scored on originality, flavour, presentation and business potential. The panel of top industry judges included acclaimed chefs Nobu Lee and Des Harris, Cuisine magazine editor Kelli Brett, E-Spain founder and event sponsor Angel Morton, Australian chef Alberto do Lorenzis and hospitality industry heavyweight Michael Friend.

Said judge Kelli Brett: “I was excited to see the impressive and diverse flavours presented as tapas by these talented chefs.  Ultimately chef Passano became our winner by presenting a tapa that not only gave us incredible pleasure in just a few bites but also told a playful story of our unique New Zealand ingredients and food culture.”

The competition is now in its second year, and according to organiser  Ignite Colleges General Manager Jasbir Kaur, is going from strength to strength.

“At last year’s event the tapas were of a very high calibre, but this year is even better. I can’t wait for 2020,” she said.

The Ambassador of Spain in New Zealand HE Fernando Curcio Ruigómez and the Economic and Trade Commissioner Jordi Fornells flew in from Wellington for the competition, delighted to celebrate Spain’s favourite fare Down Under.

“This event is a fantastic opportunity for Australasian chefs to learn more about Spanish cuisine, and it’s also a chance to promote New Zealand ingredients and culinary innovations internationally,” said the Ambassador.

“The effort that competitors are putting into their tapas is what really makes cooking improve. It’s fantastic to see such innovation and so many new ideas. This year the competition has been very tough, and the presentation has just been amazing.”

One of the Ambassador’s favourites was an edible book created by Bellota chef Shuyun Chen (Dani). Dani took out the Australasian competition last year and went on to become the 2018 world champion.

“My experiences last year in Valladolid have really helped me in my career. I brought home lots of fresh ideas, and a lot of doors have opened for me since then,” she said.

Second place in this year’s competition went to Alok Vasanth from The Tasting Shed, while Ignite Colleges student chef Tamara Johnson took out third spot. Ignite Colleges and Jasbir Kaur both received awards in appreciation of their continued support in the promotion of Spanish gastronomy in Australasia.

The event was sponsored by E-Spain, with support from HTT (the Hospitality Training Trust), Great Taste NZ, Monin, Yolo, Davis,  Unox and Atlantic Chef.

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