Following on from the runaway success of the inaugural event in 2021, The Pure South Famous Young Chefs Luncheon returned to Southern Institute of Technology recently; Southland’s finest produce was prepared and presented to perfection by the next generation of budding talent, under the guidance of some of the country’s most qualified chefs, resulting in a memorable culinary showcase and social occasion.
Invercargill chef and restaurateur, Graham Hawkes, the propagator of quality cuisine in the south for decades, returned as event organiser after producing a highly successful, inaugural luncheon last May. Infusing the event with colleagues and friends from his years in the industry, the 2022 line-up was another who’s who of top chefs: Joseph Clarke- ServiceIQ, Daniel Reynolds and Callum Booth – Blanket Bay, Ethan Flack, Darren Wright - Ambassador Chef, Alliance Farmer’s Produce, Steve Le Corre - Ara Institute, Timaru, and Tony Smith - Ambassador Chef, Akaroa Salmon. Also participating on the day to help front of house run smoothly, James Hargest College students carried out the table service.
The event provides the opportunity to showcase prime southern produce; the fund raiser also saw Southland Boys High School benefit with the proceeds this year, but most importantly, it functions to connect current students with some of NZ’s most well-known chefs. Under the tutelage of such depth of experience, SIT Cookery Level 3, Level 4 and Level 5 students received a master class, as they were guided to prepare fresh ideas and amazing flavours for the five-course degustation menu.
After the success of the 2021 luncheon at SIT’s training restaurant, The Bungalow, this year’s event held on April 24th, was moved across the street to Hansen Hall, allowing for more people to attend; the larger venue also sold out. “We were less constrained with numbers this time, with a limit of 120,” said Glenn Stridiron, Programme Manager for SIT’s School of Hospitality and Cookery.
He said now is the time to train for the hospitality industry. “It continues to be a great career path - the opportunities are there, post-pandemic, people still need to eat. It’s still the way to learn, travel and experience the world”. With food trends changing it’s an exciting time to be involved in food. “There’s strong interest in healthy eating and more emphasis towards eating a plant-based diet. If you’ve got drive and passion, it could be the career for you,” he added.
Without overstating it, the significance and function of mentorship within professional Culinarians is a key factor in the success of graduates. More often than not, graduates starting out have chefs they aspire to emulate in their cookery and development; senior chefs who mentor generously are responsible for passing the knowledge of their careers onto the next generation, for good skill retention in the industry.
Two of the guest chefs this year can attest to the power of mentoring from high school onwards; both SIT School of Hospitality and Cookery graduates, Joseph Clarke and Daniel Reynolds have climbed the ladder as chefs and know what it’s like to start at the very beginning, then work their way up to the top of their profession.
After graduating, both secured employment at the prestigious Blanket Bay Lodge, Glenorchy, both holding the Executive Chef position there, but also going on to have varied, interesting careers in other places as well. Mr Reynolds is currently Executive Chef at Blanket Bay and Invercargill born-and-bred Mr Clarke is now a Hospitality Sector Advisor at ServiceIQ, overseeing the vocational education of all the New Zealand apprenticeships for Food and Beverage and Cookery over the upper half of the South Island.
Their return to the SIT training kitchens for the luncheon brought back memories of those early, key mentor relationships with their tutors. Mr Clarke said they also knew the guest chefs from their years in the business. “It felt very much like a reunion...” he said. Creating and overseeing the dessert course, Mr Clarke and students prepared the very Southland-inspired Sticky Parsnip Pudding, which went down a treat, according to feedback on the day.
“How Southland can you get? We had a fantastic response to it... Southland should be proud of its Sticky Parsnip Cake! If someone wanted to put that on their menu, I’d have no problem with that.”
Similarly, Mr Reynolds along with Blanket Bay Sous Chef, Mr Booth used their considerable finesse to create the first course and challenge diners’ taste buds with a dish of Southland Lamb Tartare. Serving lamb cold and raw to Southlanders was definitely a new angle. “Hopefully it was something they weren’t expecting. I wanted to see how they would react to something a bit different from how they would normally have lamb... it went down well. Southland Lamb is the best in the world, to not cook it and have it in its raw form, is a nice way to prepare it,” Mr Reynolds said.
He enjoyed reconnecting with his former tutors and said it provided a timely opportunity to give back to SIT as well. He was able to engage with students who were keen for work placements at the five-star lodge. Due to changes in the industry since the pandemic, re-establishing connections with SIT to present work placements or trials to individual students, created potential win-win outcomes for all involved. “There are high-calibre students coming through, it could work out well,” he noted.
Reflecting on the success of the weekend, event organiser Graham Hawkes described how satisfying it was over the two days, to watch and observe the continual flow of questions from the students and more so, the explanations they were given from the Chefs.
“This, alongside the conversations during the Breakfasts and Lunches cemented the reasons for the Famous Young Chefs Luncheon to be continued in the future. The weekend simply strengthened the future of the Hospitality and Culinary profession in the South,” he said.