SIT - Te Pūkenga Cookery student, Yari Mowatt, has had success in her first culinary competition, achieving a bronze medal in a close contest against more experienced competitors.
Held at Ara - Te Pūkenga campus in Christchurch on 28th July, Miss Mowatt competed in the South Island Regional Cook-off of the Nestlé Golden Chef's Hat Award. Running for 58 years in Australia and since 2020 in New Zealand, the culinary award supports young chefs in making industry connections, advancing skills and progressing their careers. The top scoring young chef in each region goes onto the national final, held September 12th - 13th in Sydney.
Contestants had two-and-a-half hours to prepare a main and dessert. “It was hard to work with the (seasonal) winter ingredients,” Miss Mowatt said. She prepared a seared pork loin with kumara mash, a silver beet reduction, creamy mushrooms, and roasted cherry tomatoes. The dessert was an espresso pannacotta with walnut praline, strawberry salsa, topped with a vanilla and cinnamon foam, “to look like a coffee,’’ she added.
It was Miss Mowatt’s first culinary competition, so naturally she was nervous. “The other girls already had two years’ experience ... [they] were amazing, I didn’t feel like I was competing against them ... it was great to support each other,” she said.
Medals in the competition aren’t awarded in the traditional first - gold, second – silver and third - bronze; the points each chef gains determines which medal they achieve. It was a tight competition; all three contestants were awarded bronze medals by scoring between 70-80 points each, with Joosje Bouman, (aged 22), Ara Institute of Canterbury trained, winning on the day. She’ll travel to Australia with North Island winner, AUT student, Lilly Boles, (aged 19), to compete against the ten regional Australian finalists.
Miss Mowatt said after the contest they had a sit-down with the judges who gave them feedback and advice. “I was happy with their comments ... I lost points on silly things; my uniform sleeves were too long, how I handled the food. I didn’t expect that, it made me realise how serious the competition was.”
The highly experienced judges, Alliance Brand Ambassador Chef, Darren Wright, and Ara Cookery Tutors, Mark Sycamore and Steve Le Corre, may be familiar to Southlanders; all three chefs appeared at the annual Famous Young Chefs Luncheon at SIT in April, mentoring Cookery students for the weekend. Miss Mowatt worked with Darren Wright on that occasion. “It was really nice meeting them again,” she said.
Miss Mowatt came from Panama to SIT to study Cookery in July last year, and is halfway through completing a Diploma in Culinary Excellence (Level 5). She also works as an à la carte and functions Chef at Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill. “It’s amazing, I’ve learnt so much and have grown a lot in the past year,” she said.
The experience has bolstered Miss Mowatt’s confidence. “I’ll definitely go back and compete again. I’m going to enter ... next year ... I’ll start working on preparing; next time I’ll try to win.”