The finale of the month-long, annual Savour the South Festival was held in fine style last weekend; at the Pure South Famous Young Chefs Luncheon, diners were treated to the finest southern produce available, crafted into sumptuous dishes by Cookery students under the skilful guidance of eight elite chefs.
Supporting the south’s next generation of chefs, around 170 diners faithful to the cause came from all over the province, some from even further afield, to Hansen Hall at SIT | Te Pūkenga, to spend a Sunday afternoon (unapologetically, this isn’t fast food) immersed in the delectable fare. Starting with canapés, followed by a five-course degustation menu, guests tasted melt-in-your-mouth salmon, crayfish, perfectly cooked lamb, venison and aged beef, teamed with a vast array of flavours to make each dish sing; even the humble Southland swede was elevated above its usual state, making a surprise appearance in the dessert.
Presented by Hospitality New Zealand with Southland chef and restaurateur, the evergreen Graham Hawkes at the helm as organiser, for the third year running all the stops were pulled out to create an unforgettable dining experience. Famous returning chefs Steve le Corre, Tony Smith, and Darren Wright, were joined by ‘newbies’ Cameron Davies, Maclean Fraser, Richard Hingston, Adele Hingston, and Mark Sycamore.
Throughout the weekend – there was a full day of prep prior to the luncheon – one of the main features of the event was taking place; the chefs were actively mentoring, imparting their considerable knowledge and experience into eager-to-learn SIT, ILT, Front Line Training and Southland Boys’ High School (SBHS) Cookery students.
SIT Level four Cookery student, Jack Pagan, relished the opportunity to learn from two of New Zealand’s top pastry chefs, Adele Hingston and Richard Hingston. He said learning different techniques from them had been "amazing”. The highlight of his weekend was plating up in front of the diners. “The live plating, I’ve never done that before but it’s going well.”
SIT Level three Cookery student, Jackie Saravaki, said she found the whole experience totally helpful “... especially serving 160, 170 people ... and working alongside famous chefs ...” She thought the New Zealand representative chefs would be strict “which they were”, but found they were also “super chill, super calm, I’ve really enjoyed that ... they understand how we beginners are.” The chefs had reinforced her learning, “to be neat, to be precise, to [have] a good level of service,” she added.
Behind the scenes, the team of SIT staff: Hospitality and Cookery Programme Manager Glenn Stridiron, Cookery Tutor, Marene Tweedie and Technician, Maree Drummond, worked tirelessly to keep everything running like a well-oiled machine, from feeding the guest chefs and students, to ferrying the food across from SIT’s training kitchens to the hall for the final stages.
Mr Stridiron said the luncheon has fast become a calendar event, describing it as “the last hurrah” of Savour the South. SIT had an ongoing commitment to the event because they recognised the benefits it brought their Cookery students; it created an experience they would never forget throughout their careers by connecting them with some of New Zealand’s finest chefs. “We are fully supportive in being involved in community initiatives and getting young culinarians to help the industry and mature that talent,” said Mr Stridiron.
Self-confessed foodie and Southland Business Chamber CEO, Sheree Carey, attends the luncheon every year to support local food producers and enjoy what Southland has to offer. “I’m a real foodie and love Southland food, ... this is a real showcase.” Ms Carey believes Famous Young Chefs is one of ‘the’ gastronomic events to experience, describing it as the culmination in a month of incredible southern food. “This brings it altogether as a real celebration of everything ... and it’s great to support our new chefs coming through.”
The luncheon also serves as a fund-raiser for SBHS; this year the funds go towards purchasing six new ovens for the school.
Mr Hawkes said from the success of this year’s event the famous eight were already signing up for the 2024 luncheon. “The engagement from the students this year was absolutely phenomenal!” Post-event, the guest chefs’ conversation was all about the students and how much they wanted to be there. They were so impressed, “the whole crew want to come back,” he said.
“Savour the South is going to grow”, said Mr Hawkes, who has long been a proponent of Southland becoming a foodie destination. Famous Young Chefs encapsulated all that is Savour the South, he continued. It incorporated the producers, the quality produce, hospitality industry people, top chefs, and the educators who are training the south’s next batch of young chef and hospitality graduates. It all hinged on the close networks in Southland and working together to make it happen.
“Everything was donated, we were gifted the tablecloths, the cutlery, all Meats, Salmon, Vegetables, Dry Goods, Dairy, Micro Herbs, Eggs, Oysters, Wild Legend Rock Lobster, Oyster Mushrooms ... relationships with our Southland producers make the day,” Mr Hawkes concluded.