Winter 2008 - Making the link

12/04/2013 11:04
The annual NZ-UK Link Foundation competition culminated in an exciting cook off at the Westminster Kingsway College in London in November that brought out the real flavour of New Zealand produce.

A month long, all expenses paid trip to New Zealand sounds too good to be true, so when 23 year old Chris White, demi chef de partie at London's Claridge's Hotel, was presented with the NZ-UK Link Foundation culinary challenge's top prize by the Princess Royal, he was completely taken aback.

Months of suspense were finally lifted at the Westminster Kingsway College (WKC) as 10 chefs aged 23 and under battled it out for 90 minutes to create a main course using New Zealand venison loin and a dessert of their choice using braeburn apples and manuka honey – and the challenge didn't end there for the competitors.

Each finalist was interviewed at the college for 15 minutes and quizzed on their menu, their ambitions in the industry, and whether they felt they could be a good ambassador for British cuisine.

The judging panel, which included WKC chef lecturer Vince Cottam; Ross Shonhan, head chef at Zuma Restaurant in London; and Miles Kirby, head chef at the Providores and Tapas Room in London, marked the dishes on taste and texture, plus presentation, composition, menu balance and professional techniques, as well as how the choice of wine complemented the taste of the food.

White's menu ticked all of these boxes, says Kirby. “Christopher produced a menu of two courses that were overall well balanced. The execution of his menu was done with flair and it fitted the brief. His food was also well seasoned, presented and cooked perfectly. What he served on the plate represented exactly the menu he had written.”

The winning dishes featured roast loin of New Zealand venison with celeriac purée, girolles, chestnuts and a claret and juniper berry sauce accompanied by 2006 muscat du cap corse cuvée orenga de gaffory; and braeburn apple trifle with calvados chantilly and a hazelnut crumble.

“I was shocked when my name was called out,” says White. “I wasn't expecting it at all. For me it was more about the experience of competing in the contest. Winning the competition was a bonus.”

The results of the challenge were revealed the day after the competition at an awards ceremony at New Zealand House in Haymarket, London, where the powerhouse behind the competition, New Zealander Peter Gordon, chef owner of the Providores, was responsible for creating the canapés using local produce from his home country.

New Zealand High Commissioner Derek Leask welcomed and thanked the sponsors and partners. “The Craft Guild has been a key partner in this whole exercise and without its hard work none of this would be possible,” says Leask, adding thanks to WKC as the second partner, along with sponsors Blue Seal, New Zealand Venison, The Providores and Tapa Room, Comvita, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, Steelite, Air New Zealand and Bleeding Heart Restaurants.

“Each time we run this competition it gets better and better,” says Craft Guild vice president David Mulcahy. “Our past winners are great ambassadors and are testament to the quality of young people and the talent that is out there.”

The Princess Royal, patron of the NZ-UK Link Foundation, who coincidentally was planning to fly to New Zealand the next day to attend the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth conference, described the connection between her visit and the contest: “The link between this conference and the NZ-UK Link Foundation competition is what has been achieved in New Zealand, in diversifying and adding to its list of fresh produce and creating interesting things to eat and to prepare. The example that it sets for the Commonwealth in what it has achieved is very important.”

She went on to present the finalists with certificates and medals. They also received signed cookery books by Peter Gordon and Sophie Wright, a selection of high quality tableware, and a year's free membership to the Craft Guild.

White's fabulous trip includes a return flight provided by Air New Zealand and a grant to cover all expenses for a working visit to the country where he will be working and learning for up to three weeks in top restaurants around the country, then having the option to explore and enjoy the sights for a further week.

Runner up Jamie Fanger from the Crooked Beam Restaurant in Dorset won a week's work experience with Gordon at his Providores restaurant, while Daniel Corbett from Rhodes W1 in London who came third will also be working alongside Gordon in his London restaurant.

According to last year's winner Selin Kiazim, the trip to New Zealand was phenomenal and has inspired her to travel more and learn about different food and cultures.

“My final few weeks were in Auckland where I was at the Dine by Peter Gordon restaurant. It was there I really fell in love with his style of food. People who I worked with were brilliant and so accommodating, and the range of ingredients I saw there I had never even heard of before in my life. To work with them was an absolute pleasure.

“Being part of this competition boosted my confidence, my independence and made me believe in myself and my cooking. This has led me to where I am now, which is at The Providores with Peter.”

While White jets off to New Zealand, young New Zealander Thomas Townsend from Sky City Hotel in Auckland will be coming to Britain to experience some of the finest restaurants in London. The apprentice chef recently won the World Skills competition and will be going on to represent his country in Calgary, Canada next year.

Francis King, NZ-UK Link Foundation's executive officer and joint organiser of the competition, says the contest acts as a platform for the standard it expects next year. “Winning this competition is a step to higher things. The standard keeps going up.”

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