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NZ Chefs announce Junior Team to compete in China

NZ Chefs junior Team
L to R: Joseph Lunn, Lilly Boles and Phoenix Hellewell. - and coach Geoff Scott

NZ Chefs announce Junior Team to compete in China

NZ Chefs has announced the NZ Chefs junior team of three junior chefs and their tutor from Auckland University of Technology [AUT] will represent New Zealand and compete at the International Young Chefs Challenge in Ningbo, China at the end of November. The Challenge, being held at Ningbo Gulin Vocational School will see teams from 33 countries taking part in the two-day challenge. The school has a hotel as part of its training facilities where the competitors will stay.
Save the Date: ‘Meet the Team’ Dinner at AUT on 12 October 2023.

NZ Chefs President Shannon Fryer said ‘NZ Chefs were delighted to receive the invitation for a team to compete in China. It’s a great opportunity for our up-and-coming young star chefs. Congratulations to AUT for being the inaugural Team. We are looking at establishing this challenge on the Culinary Calendar.

NZ Chefs selected the teams from Expressions of Interest from tutors who had attended the Worldchefs’ Education workshop in March 2023. The Team Coach will undertake Worldchefs’ Judging responsibilities at the challenge.

Best wishes to NZ Junior Team in association with AUT.

AUT culinary lecturer and team coach Geoff Scott says his junior chefs Joseph Lunn, Lilly Boles and Phoenix Hellewell are in for the experience of a lifetime.

“Essentially these are all first time competitors. They competed in the Nestle Golden Chef Hat competition. That was their first competition and all three medaled, which was quite extraordinary. In preparation for an international trip that is quite a confidence boost for them and also for me. The fact is Lilly was the winner of the Golden Chef Hat regional finals for Auckland and she’s going to Sydney in September and competing in the grand finale. So that’s another feather in her cap and more competition experience before heading off to China. The more competition hours she gets under her belt, the better and the pressure over there will be great training for her.”

Geoff says that when the team found out that they had been selected their reaction was one of bewilderment, gob smacked, utter excitement along with speechlessness for about five minutes as reality set in.

Even Geoff is pinching himself as he remembers his own experience as an 18 year-old competing in culinary competitions at the former AIT, now AUT. “To be full circle; to have come back to be a lecturer at AUT and then to be given this opportunity to coach, support and mentor three young chef students is an absolute privilege and honour. I can’t believe it’s quite true and it will hit me when we board the plane. There’s a huge amount of work and organisation that’s going to be involved and necessary to get there but it’s just an amazing opportunity for the students and a great experience for me to be able to help them along this journey.”

Once the team arrive in Ningbo, which is close to Shanghai, they will have time to settle in and get familiar with the kitchen they will be competing in, organise any fresh produce they’ll need and basically make sure they are ready to compete.
The first day of competition is the team challenge where two of the chefs will prepare and cook a number of dishes. Following on from that the students will cook in an individual competition. “That will be in the format of a main course meat or main course seafood.”

Geoff says there is quite a bit of logistics in organising everything that the team needs to prepare the dishes for the challenge. Currently they are developing menu concepts before Geoff starts approaching companies for sponsorship.
“We’ll be working with some New Zealand suppliers who are based up in China, possibly having to take some specialty ingredients with us if we can get clearance; so a fair amount of logistics, planning and organisation to make sure it’s as smooth as possible.”

Fundraising is also underway with an exclusive ‘Meet the Chefs’ dinner being held at AUT on October 12. “We’re planning to have a beautiful degustation meal that is cooked by the chefs and they will talk about each of the courses and what they will be doing in preparation for the trip, but also, what they will be doing when they get up there; what is involved and what it looks like for them.”

Geoff says the preparation for a trip of this nature is a bit like climbing Everest. “We’re in the early stages but quite a lot has already been done. We’re heading towards Base Camp right now.”

Geoff will draw on his own experience as a junior chef going to Singapore to compete, his involvement with taking sports teams aboard for competitions and his years of living in Europe negotiating in non-English speaking countries.
“I’ve had the good fortune to coach and mentor young sports people on both national and international trips. There will be a bit of cross-over. This will be totally food focused but certainly supporting and mentoring and coaching young students out of their comfort zone and making sure they have all the necessary support to perform well, is something that I feel in a privileged position to do and I really want to give them the absolute right tools and the right environment to do their absolute best.”

Geoff says having been a food ambassador to both China and Japan twice, he has some experience of what to expect and how to get around China. “I don’t feel completely out of my depth; it’s going to be super exciting and very rewarding for all of those involved. There are 33 countries competing so it is going to be ENORMOUS!”

And when the challenge is over, Geoff hopes to finish on a high note by taking his junior chefs to Shanghai to introduce them to some chefs he knows. “Hopefully we’ll get them into some amazing restaurants so that they can see some absolutely high calibre establishments that they won’t experience at that level here in Auckland. Just the scale of a city that big, I know for Phoenix, who comes from Gore, it is going to be a total eye-opening, mind-blowing event.”

Geoff says they are very conscientious young students. “The fact that they put their hands up to do the previous competition shows they have stick-ability, determination, resilience and I think that that is a great starting point. You have to have a few of those attributes if you want to compete because it’s not always roses. But seeing them grow and develop will be the main thing for me. That will be the huge kick. I’m going to have an opportunity to be involved in the judging, which will be an awesome experience. But I think to see these three young New Zealanders pitting themselves against all those other young competitors will be great.”
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