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Lightening Does Strike Twice

Lightening Does Strike Twice

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David Schofield, 2011 New Zealand Chef of the Year - owner and director of culinary consulting company Star Anise has, for the second year running and for only the second time in the national competition’s 20 year history - won the prestigious New Zealand Chef of the Year 2012 title back to back earlier this week.

The Culinary Fare is run by the Restaurant Association of New Zealand and the Chef of the Year category is supported by Moffat and Southern Hospitality.

“After winning last year, I decided to defend the title for 2012 – it was a risky move as not many who win decide to go back and defend it. I wanted to prove to myself that last year wasn’t a one off fluke – it has never been about the ‘fortune and glory (if there is such a thing) ’ – for me it is a very personal challenge.”

Schofield’s career started in the late 80’s in his hometown of Wellington. His first introduction to the industry was a hard one - washing pots and pans at the Plaza International on its opening day. After completing his studies at Wellington polytechnic he headed to Europe in an attempt to further his knowledge and gain experience in some of the toughest of London’s 5 star hotels and Michelin-star kitchens. Stints at the Ritz and Claridges (among others) molded and refined his skills and technique ingraining the ‘sense of making it happen’ that now underpins his work ethic.

“A kitchen is not a relaxing environment and in truth, it shouldn’t be. Sharp knives and hot metal in a small confined hot space is not really a recipe for relaxation. A casual approach simply doesn’t’ work. In a good kitchen and competitions, you have to work with a constant ‘sense of making it happen’.”

Returning home to Wellington “DG” worked in a number of leading kitchens and thrived under the passionate vibe of the capital city’s food industry. It was from here that he represented New Zealand in several prestigious international culinary competitions, gaining gold and silver medals and setting records that still stand today.

Schofield’s style would best be described as honest and straightforward with seasonal produce taking center stage. He loves sweet and sour/ hot and cold pairings as well as matches from different cuisines. Although a convert to some of the science of “molecular gastronomy” he continues to believe that the taste and texture of natural products is paramount.

“A good Chef does not seek to change or disguise the natural flavor or taste of the produce they use. They seek to showcase and enhance it.”

He is passionate about artisan producers and believes that the standard of the produce in New Zealand equals and often exceeds the produce being offered in Europe, Asia and a vast majority of the world. He is great believer in what are now tagged “heirloom” or “original” strains of vegetables and is an advocate for good welfare standards when it come to the rearing of livestock.

Competitions have played a large part in David’s career and have gone a long way in proving his doubters wrong. The amount of time and energy he puts into his preparations is truly exceptional.

“An enormous amount of work goes into the preparation for competitions. Trying to find sponsorship for produce and equipment, developing the dishes honing skills. Mental preparation is a big one. I never go into a competition expecting to win, only a fool would – but I do go into them with the utmost determination to do things to the best of my ability and as prepared as possible, but the simple fact is, if you enter to win - you have to be prepared to lose.”

Schofield is a great believer in supporting the next generation of chefs working their way through their training. He believes that standards need to be set higher so when culinary students are qualified, they are ready for the ‘real’ culinary/hospitality world.

“They need to have a realistic expectation of the pressures and time involved. No one freshly ‘trained’ cook should ever expect to walk into an executive or head chef position – though these days we see it often enough. It is amazing how many freshly ‘qualified’ kids come looking for a job expecting to get a head or executive chef position and expecting ridiculous salaries.”

Schofield has been a competitive chef throughout his career and enjoyed previous award success. He has distinguished himself in the Prix Pierre Taittinger Great Britain; he has represented New Zealand and set records that still stand today.

He now has his sights set on the internationally renowned Bocuse d'Or, a biennial world chef championship held in Lyon France.

“Finding enough sponsorship and support to represent New Zealand in the Bocuse d’or is going to be a huge uphill battle – countries like the USA literally get millions of dollars thrown at them in order to compete but in New Zealand there simply isn’t that sort of support. It is going to be a really hard slog to try and find the sponsorship, but it is one that I am ready for.”

He is currently running his culinary consulting business Star Anise and is on the lookout for the perfect property to open his own restaurant. He has promised his wife Anna that this was the last year he would compete in the Chef of the Year competitions, but she is not so sure. She says that David is a ‘competitive perfectionist who is never satisfied with his own work and constantly seeks to improve…. Competitions are in his nature and I’m not sure he will ever be able to truly give them up, but then again, I’m not sure he should.”


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