Southlanders in the know were living large recently when they were treated to a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights, produced by some of the country’s best known, experienced culinary masters and student chefs; all thanks to a promise made by Invercargill chef and restauranteur Graham Hawkes, a perennially proactive tertiary training institute and a large helping of good will.
Taking place at Southern Institute of Technology’s Bungalow Restaurant on Sunday May 16th, the Pure South Famous Young Chefs Degustation Luncheon was a four-hour extravaganza of the best southern produce on offer, the wine-matched, five-course menu expertly prepared and presented to the diners by MCs’ Darren Ludlow and Graham Hawkes.
“There was a lot of laughter, people came out for a fun afternoon”, said Mr Hawkes, describing the day and how enjoyable it was for all involved - everything was done well and organised for faultless execution, with the guest chefs commenting on “what an amazing set-up at SIT and all the assistance they had”.
Excellence doesn’t happen by accident; the entire crew spent the previous day ‘prepping’ for the event. SIT’s training kitchens were a hive of activity and in the midst of the busyness, an important feature of the weekend was taking place – vastly experienced chefs with decades in the industry were passing knowledge and skills onto their twenty-three junior chefs.
“The guys were patient with the students and took the time to explain how to do things properly, said Mr Hawkes, and in the world of professional chefs, this means “there’s the right way, the wrong way, then there’s my way”, he laughed.
Mr Hawkes’ industry connections come from more than fifty years in hospitality – he was the first tutor at SIT’s Cookery School - and over the years he has built many friendships in the industry, so when he put the call out to come south, there was no hesitation.
Richard Hingston (The Cafe, Christchurch Casino), Tony Smith (Ambassador Chef, Akaroa Salmon), Steve Le Corre (Ara Institute, Timaru), Darren Wright (Chillingworth Road, Christchurch), all attended, as well as Southlanders Karl Robinson (Rocket Hospitality) and Ethan Flack, who has recently returned from the UK after ten years cheffing in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Mr Hawkes said the driving force behind the event came from a promise he’d made to his friend, fellow chef and tutor, the late Scott Richardson.
“I promised Scott I'd help his legacy continue... he used to run a famous chefs dinner, so why not carry on with it", he said.
“In partnership with Hospitality NZ, we wanted to create a pathway for young chefs to mix with more experienced chefs”. Mr Hawkes added that it’s not enough to teach a curriculum to Cookery students and he illustrated his point with the ‘nose to tail’ concept.
“Take for example, a salmon – if you just buy fillets, you lose the ability and know-how to use the whole fish – every part of it, from fillets to making fish stock - that’s how skills are lost through missing out on that training”.
The same applied with beef and lamb - in ‘nose to tail’ everything is utilised - as a result, it fosters creativity and skill, like lamb trim being minced and made into dumplings. “It’s not taking the easy way out” he added.
Darren Wright, newly appointed Alliance Brand Ambassador, reiterates – he’s seen first hand the loss of skilled people in the hospitality industry where he’s based in Christchurch, largely due to factors beyond anyone’s control – the effect of the earthquakes, then the pandemic.
“The industry has had tough times”, these events are “hugely important” for the passing on of skill sets, he said.
Glenn Stridiron, Programme Manager for SIT’s School of Hospitality and Cookery, relishes the opportunity to create industry links and successful events for his students. Diploma in Cookery Level 5 and New Zealand Certificate in Cookery Level 3 students were involved, as well as three students from Southland Boys High School.
“It’s a great event, it’s promoting Southland produce, students get to work with top NZ chefs, they’re learning new skills... we’re here to support our students and help them get involved and progress with their careers”.
Tania Hand, Diploma in Cookery Level 5 student participated in the luncheon, and said, “It’s honestly amazing – it’s such a privilege to be offered this opportunity and to have the skills that the chefs have passed onto us”.
SIT staff, and participating chefs volunteered their time for the event and the sponsors were generous contributors - Pure South as the primary sponsor, with Hospitality NZ, Great South, SIT, ILT, Barnes Oysters, Fonterra, Sanford, and Bidfood - it’s all part of the goodwill which functions to make things happen here, said Mr Stridiron.
Mr Hawkes, said all of Southland is a food production hub, and is brimming with potential to become a culinary destination. “People should be coming here for the food...the whole of NZ could be steered in that direction...”
It is this potential which has brought chefs like Ethan Flack back home to Southland, with the knowledge and experience, committed to investing his time and talents into the province and its people. Garden-to-table dining is possible here, just as it is in the UK, with the best produce available right here on our doorstep.
Mr Hawkes said the on the day of the luncheon, “the students came alive... the atmosphere in the kitchen was unbelievable – they really had a good time”.
As did all the guest chefs “...they had an absolute blast!” He’d received so much positive feedback and there’s a genuine commitment to keep this going, with many offering to return for 2022, he said.
“The point that really struck me, when we called everyone out from the kitchen, immediately without hesitation, there was a standing ovation from everyone, all the guests were straight into it”, he said.
“It’s pretty satisfying I have to say, I’m delighted with the whole affair”.