Food, flair and healthy competition: 2016 marks the eleventh year of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Awards in Australia. The rigorous competition spans months, and has three categories: Young Chef, Young Waiter and Young Restaurateur. It gives successful entrants the opportunity to be mentored by some of the country’s best professionals in the food industry, as they strive to become Australia’s next culinary stars.

The competition was originally founded as motivation for youth to get excited about the food industry. In Australia, many young people only work in the industry as a part time job as they pursue their other passions. Appetite for Excellence wants to create a sustainable industry where youth can thrive and work towards their future. 

The final rounds of competition are between the State Finalists to become National Finalists. This came after the competitors underwent a tough application process and preliminary competition. Eligibility criteria for entrants: have to be under 30; must be an Australian resident or citizen; and must already work in the culinary industry on a full time basis. For the Young Chef competition, they also have to hold the required Certificate III in Hospitality- Commercial Cookery or have worked as a chef for at least 2 years. The Young Waiters must have worked in a restaurant or catering industry for at least 18 months and hold their RSA. Finally, the Young Restaurateurs must have owned their business for a minimum of 2 years. 

We were fortunate enough to attend a couple of the events leading up to the announcement of the winners, for both the Young Waiter and Young Chef categories.

The Wait-Off lunch.

On May 31st 2016 we attended the pop-up style “Wait-Off”. This was a lunch where we were seated at the table allocated to one of the state finalists to serve. This was the culmination of the 2-day national judging where they had to write a paper, and underwent master classes, workshops, interviews, skill assessments. 

During the Wait-Off we were seated at Mia McIntyre’s table. Mia is from Michels Restaurant in Queensland and hopes to own her own venue one day that focuses on great conversation, wine and food. 

The Young Waiters were judged on table service, wine pairings, food knowledge and customer service. We were greeted by friendly Mia, who gave great recommendations on the wines available and an in-depth description of the courses we would be served. 

Some of the beautiful sashimi starters: squid sashimi with spicy mayonnaise & crispy tofu; oysters with nam jim.
The other two starters were tuna with shichimi spice, harissa tabouleh, fennel and coriander, and spicy salmon tartare with miso, citrus, avocado and a rice cracker.

The meal started with a set of sashimi: oyster with nam jam; squid sashimi with spicy mayonnaise; tuna with shichimi spice; and spicy salmon tartare. 

Melt-in-your-mouth Vietnamese braised short rib, with beautifully colourful garnish.
Creamy, crunchy Murray cod, with golden zucchini scales.

We had a choice for our main, between Vietnamese braised short rib with kimchi puree, shaved beets and leaves, or Murray cod with crab and corn, zucchini, garlic chive and parmesan broth. Being two of us, we got one of each!

Mia explained which wines would go with each main, and answered all the questions we had about the menu. She was attentive and professional. There were a few people at our table with dietary concerns and she did a phenomenal job of accommodating them and finding the right solution. 

The meal ended with petit fours, including delicious lemon macarons. 

Dessert: Grand Marnier dark chocolate truffles, raspberry friands and lemon macaroons.

Sadly, Mia did not make it to the national finals — the competition was fierce. 

Young Waiter NATIONAL FINALISTS:
Andrew Day- AKIBA
Dylan Labuschangne- STILLWATER RESTAURANT/ BLACK COW BISTRO
George Papaioannou- LUXENBOURG BAR & BISTRO
Morgan Golledge- BLACKBIRD BAR AND GRILL
Natasha Janetzki- BLACKBIRD BAR AND GRILL
Rory McCallum- SUPERNORMAL

Young Waiter STATE FINALISTS:
Chayse Bertoncello- O.MY RESTAURANT
Imogen Clarke- RESTAURANT ORANA
Katrina Lee- PANAMA DINING ROOM AND BAR
Mia McIntyre- MICHELS RESTAURANT

An electric atmosphere in the kitchen, as we watch the Young Chefs compete!
Young Chef Nick Gangway is in the zone! The smells coming from his bench were mouthwateringly good.

On June 7th, we got to head into the kitchen and watch the Young Chefs compete in their final Cook-Off. All state finalists had competed the day before, after which a select number of them went through to the next round to become national finalists. During the final cook off the chefs were required to cook from a pantry of mystery ingredients, MasterChef style. 

The mystery pantry was full of delicious, fresh produce and plenty of staples.

The chefs had to plate, present and explain their dishes. The esteemed judges (named below) walked through the kitchen as they cooked, asking questions and observing their techniques and skills. The kitchen was an intense place to be!

Young Chef Zachary Furst plates up as professional Chef Peter Gilmore looks on. Talk about pressure!
Zachary had impressively steady hands plating up his dishes for the judges.

We talked to one of the national finalists, Aaron Ward from Sixpenny, after he finished cooking. He said the national cook off was more relaxed than the preliminary round as they had more time to focus on what they were cooking, given the 3-hour time limit. Aaron is from rural NSW and would eventually like to have his own restaurant in the Newcastle Region. He has worked his way up the culinary ladder from small rural restaurants to Sixpenny where he is now. Aaron is very passionate about bringing good food to rural parts of Australia knowing there is a limitation there. He spoke about Newcastle becoming the next culinary hotspot of NSW. 

Young Chef Aaron Ward chats to culinary extraordinaire Mark Best, as he casually munches on a radish.

Appetite for Excellence prides themselves on having the best to judge these upcoming young stars, and the Cook-Off judging panel consisted of some of Australia’s most distinguished and recognised culinary professionals. 

The national judges included Mark Best, Peter Gilmore, Dave Pynt, Guy Grossi and Lyndey Milan. 

From L to R: Dave Pynt, Peter Gilmore, Lyndey Milan, Guy Grossi and project director Phee Gardner.

Having such highly regarded people on board gives the Young Chefs the ability to interact with these renowned names, a provides great opportunity for networking.

Aaron is taking every opportunity to learn from the bets in the business. Here he is talking to Chef Peter Gilmore.

Australian Chef Dave Pynt owns Burnt Ends in Singapore, which this year was named one of the 50 best restaurants in Asia. Dave was on the judging panel for the first time this year, and told us that taste was the main thing he was judging on. He says without taste, you can’t have good food. From there he was looking for the “one percents”, these were what made the chef stand out from the rest and included warm plates and creativity. 

Guy Grossi, one of Melbourne’s top chefs (and one of our country’s great media personalities) said that above all else, he too was looking for delicious food. He wanted the contestants to push themselves, and have confidence in what they present. Guy wanted to see complex dishes, full of flavour and interesting textures. So far, he was impressed with what he’d seen. 

Young Chef- NATIONAL FINALISTS:
Aaron Ward- SIXPENNY
Jordan Monkhouse- ARIA BRISBANE
Mal Meiers- FATTO BAR AND CANTINA
Nick Gannaway- THE BRIDGE ROOM
Thiago Miranda- CHURCH ST ENOTECA
Troy Crisante- BANNELONG RESTAURANT
Zachary Furst- IDES

Young Chef- STATE FINALISTS:
Braden White- THE APO
Cameron Jones- RED CABBAGE FOOD AND WINE
Chris Howard- THE FREYCINET LODGE
Liz Edney- ONE PENNY RED
Phillip Roberts- ESCHALOT RESTAURANT
Shayne Mansfield- THE LONG APRON

Young Chef Finalists:
Andre McLoughlin- ROAYL MAIL HOTEL
Cody McKavanagh- BOAT DINING
Joanne Cross- CUCINA VIVO
Joshua Gregory- EXP. RESTAURANT
Kahwai Lo- MATTEO’S
Louise Brown- MONTALTO VINEYARD AND OLIVE GREEN 
Mark Glenn- DINNER BY HIESTON
Mathew Lee- BRISBANE CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE
Matt Binney- MERRICOTE
Matthew Hammond- ELYROS RESTAURANT
Michael Conlon- BLACKBIRD BAR AND GRILL
Nichole Horvath- BURCH AND PURCHASE SWEET STUDIO
Sean Glatt- PETITE MORT
Sean Hillier- MUSE RESTAURANT
Sean Townsend- MUSE KITCHEN
Shoehei Kishishita- COAST RESTAURANT AND BAR
Thomas Smith- BISTRO GUILLAUME

The national finalists from both the Young Waiter and Young Chef competitions embarked on an all expenses paid produce tour earlier this week, exploring one of Australia’s leading food and wine regions. This year it is the Hunter Valley Region in NSW. The Young Restaurateur finalists are also invited to attend. 

On 7th August, a pop-up style restaurant will open for one night only, giving the chance to consumers to experience the work of the finalists. At this Hunt & Gather restaurant, guests will experience a three-course meal paired with matching drinks, specially curated by some of our country’s finest young chefs and waiters – the finalists! They will have recently returned from their produce tour of the Hunter Valley region, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge about the quality of Australian produce. 

The national judging for the Young Restaurateur category will have taken place at this point, through a series of panel interviews about their business and future. 

Young Restaurateur NATIONAL FINALISTS:
Cameron Cansdell- BOMBINI
Dave Parker- SAN TELMO AND PASTUSO
David Ralph- KIM RESTAURANT
Kelvin Shaw- ALTAR RESTAURANT

The winners of each category will be announced at a star-studded dinner on August 8th in Sydney. Huge prizes are to be won for each category! 

For more information on Appetite For Excellence, go to appetiteforexcellence.com

Words by Bradlyn Wilson, photos by Alana Kaye