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Gold for young star chef

Gold for young star chef

Tamara Johnson of St Heliers Bay Café & Bistro in Auckland outshone competitors in this year’s ServiceIQ Modern Apprentice Chef of the Year competition, winning the gold medal.

Beating seven other future stars, Tamara excelled across the board at menu creation, flavour matching, technical skills in preparing and cooking both her dishes, and in presentation.

Organised by ServiceIQ and held annually under the watchful gaze of experienced chef judges from the New Zealand Chefs Association, and the hundreds of industry professionals visiting the 21st National Culinary Fare in Auckland, eight top apprentice chefs compete for the coveted title. Just as sought after is the trip to the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and the opportunity for associated master classes with international chefs.

The hospitality industry battle is one of the toughest in the business, but persevering with the heat of competition pays dividends and has kick-started the career of many talented Kiwi chefs.

Tamara said she was thrilled to win. “It’s fantastic to have won against so much tough competition. The support I’ve had throughout my training and in the lead up to the ServiceIQ Modern Apprentice of the Year has been amazing, and thanks go to them all. I’ve got so many people to call and tell the news to, and so many to thank.”

ServiceIQ CEO Dean Minchington says, “The skill, dedication and hard work these young people have demonstrated prove the vibrancy of the industry. Every one of the finalists in the ServiceIQ Modern Apprentice Chef of the Year has something in common – what I call the hospitality gene par excellence. The world-class training, knowledge and mentoring that they have received as modern apprentices has enhanced that gene so they have become part of the DNA of New Zealand’s hospitality industry, and a vital part of cooking and hospitality in this country.

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“They’re an excellent example of the passionate and talented young people that New Zealand has.”

From more than 100 eligible apprentices, the eight chefs vying for the title Cookery Modern Apprentice of the Year had to create recipes for a two-course menu, based on a list of ingredients given to them in advance, and then cook those dishes within two hours. Each aspiring chef had, as the focus of their main course, a whole Regal salmon delivered to their bench to scale, fillet and prepare to their own recipe.

Tamara’s winning menu was a main of crispy skinned salmon with salmon and prawn tortellini, on a celeriac cream, with a prawn and truffle sabayon and served with buttered swiss brown mushrooms. For dessert, Tamara created a rhubarb and ginger soufflé, with a cinnamon and clove spiced cocoa syrup and vanilla crème fraiche.

Runner up this year was Nickolas Han, from Pacific International Hotel Management School in New Plymouth. Second runner up was Haven Bellamy, from Trinity Wharf, Tauranga.

All eight finalists received medals and a complimentary one-year membership to the NZ Chefs Association, as well as a prize package – including a mandolin and a River Cottage vegetable recipe book from

ServiceIQ, short for service industry qualifications, aims to have a world class New Zealand service industry through qualified people. It offers nationally recognised qualifications and workplace training programmes to New Zealand’s large and growing service industry. ServiceIQ covers the growing areas of aviation, tourism, travel, accommodation, cafes, bars, restaurants, food service, museum, restaurants, clubs, and retail and wholesale, where there are more than 70,000 businesses.

The eight finalists were:
Tamara Johnson, St Heliers Bay Café & Bistro, Auckland
Haven Bellamy, Trinity Wharf, Tauranga
Nickolas Han, Pacific International Hotel Management School, New Plymouth
Jonas Sekulla, Pravda Café , Wellington
Tohia Thompsett, Chateau Marlborough, Blenheim
Hugh Simpson, Copthorne Hotel Commodore, Christchurch
Emily O’Brien, Peppers Clearwater Resort, Christchurch
Laura Marks, St George's Hospital, Christchurch


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