Winners of the 2017 Nestle Toque D’or Awards – Toi Ohomai Rotorua students.

A team from Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Rotorua fought off fierce competition from around the country to win the top award in the prestigious annual Nestlé Toque d’Or student culinary competition.

Culinary students Mikael Aranga-Papuni and Bethaney-Mae Allen proved to be champs in the kitchen picking up gold medals, while Michael Takiwa dazzled diners at the event with top notch restaurant service skills to receive a silver medal.

The trio battled it out against 27 other top students from around the country to create their winning three course menu which took out the top spot at the competition. The team also won an additional award sponsored by Moffat for their innovative use of Nestlé Professional products.

The dishes comprised a starter of hot smoked Akaroa salmon and salmon tartar, followed by a crusted New Zealand prime lamb rack and loukaniko (Greek) sausage. The menu concluded with a butterscotch dessert and banana coconut puree.Out front, Michael served up the dishes to guests dining at the event.

The pressure was on throughout the three hours live kitchen cook off, as the team fought against the clock and scrutiny of top industry judges including WorldChefs President Thomas Gugler of Germany. Any errors made by competitors during the event resulted in lost points.

The panel of judges was led by high profile chef and leading culinary figure Darren Wright of Christchurch. Competing teams were marked against WorldChefs International Judging Standards which include food preparation, presentation, taste and service.

This is the first time that the award has gone to Toi Ohomai in Rotorua. The event which has been running for 27 years is a key fixture on the culinary calendar and is hotly contested by the country’s leading hospitality institutes.

Bethaney-Mae said she and her team mates were ecstatic to have won the competition, after training so hard for it.

“We spent months coming up with an award-winning menu, perfecting our routines and putting it all into action. On top of that, we had to manage study and work commitments but the result we’ve achieved has been well worth the effort.”

The team’s trainer Jonathan Chemis said bringing home the top award is a triumph not only for the students and the Toi Ohomai Institute but also for the Rotorua.

“It clearly demonstrates that we have the talent and skills in hospitality in the Rotorua area. This win firmly puts Toi Ohomai on the culinary map and provides the region with an opportunity to showcase its expertise to the rest of the country and even overseas. Achieving top ranking at such a prestigious competition as Nestlé Toque d’Or is a significant milestone. For these students and others who follow in their footsteps at Toi Ohomai, rewarding careers within the hospitality are now easily within reach,” he said.

Event organiser and New Zealand Chefs Association President Graham Hawkes said Nestlé Toque d’Or is the ultimate challenge for hospitality students.

“They have to pull it all together, work seamlessly as a team and deliver a polished performance on the day while under pressure.

“Aside from the competitive element, the event also opens doors for the students by placing them in front of hospitality professionals from around New Zealand who attend it.”

This year was the 27th anniversary of Nestlé Toque d’Or which is New Zealand’s longest running and most prestigious student cookery and restaurant service event. Aside from New Zealand, it is also held in 17 other countries around the world and has launched the careers of many world-famous chefs.

Sponsors of this year’s event were: Nestlé Professional, Beef + Lamb New Zealand,, Akaroa Salmon, House of Knives and Moffat.

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