Three aspiring young chefs battled it out in the kitchen this week, vying to be crowned the 2023 Beef + Lamb Young Ambassador Chef.
The three finalists were Nic Kearney from Onslow in Auckland, Jacob Aomarere-Poole from The Strong Room in Feilding and Max Loh, an alumnus from Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington.
With sizzling pans and chopping knives, it was a closely contested cook-off with Nic Kearney emerging as the victor, showing his exceptional culinary skills with his two mouth-watering dishes; Stuffed Lamb Saddle with Kawakawa, Parsnip and Lamb Neck Beignet, and Steak and Mushroom Pie with Sirloin and Bone Marrow Butter.
Nic credits his success for his approach of taking simple Kiwi concepts such as a traditional roast lamb and steak and mushroom pie and elevating them into beautifully executed dishes that created a story on the plate.
“With all the suspense and hard work building up to the competition it feels surreal to win,” says Nic. “I can now see the value of the practice and the attention to detail I put in and it feels like it’s all worth it now.”
Judging the competition were the senior Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chefs, MacLean Fraser, Brand Ambassador for Lumina Lamb; Andrew May of Amayjen The Restaurant in Palmerston North; BJ Sebastian of Plume Restaurant in Matakana and Cameron Davies from The Fat Duck in Te Anau.
Using their expertise and discerning palates, the judges were unanimous in their decision to appoint Nic as the winner.
MacLean Fraser says, “What left a lasting impression on our judging panel was how well Nic showcased his exceptional culinary skills – from the way he handled the beef and lamb products he chose to work with – right through to his methodical approach in executing his dishes with a keen eye for detail. And of course, both his dishes were absolutely delicious.”
Beef + Lamb New Zealand has been shaping the careers of senior chefs for the past 27 years. The idea of appointing a young chef as an up-and-coming ambassador was introduced during challenging times amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Lisa Moloney, Foodservice Manager at Beef + Lamb New Zealand, explains that the competition aims to provide an opportunity for young chefs to showcase their talents, elevate their profiles in the industry and inspire excellence in their kitchens.
“We want the next generation of chefs to feel excited about their careers and learn as much as they can about cooking with New Zealand beef and lamb,” says Lisa.
“Most young chefs will travel the globe to gain experience and we want them to feel proud about the produce New Zealand grows and be able to showcase this wherever they are working.”
To participate, young chefs were required to submit their best main course beef and lamb dishes, utilizing both prime cuts and secondary cuts of beef and lamb. From numerous entries, three finalists were selected and invited to Peter Gordon’s Homeland in Auckland for a live cook-off. With 90 minutes on the clock, the chefs worked diligently to impress the judges and vie for the prestigious title.
Coincidentally, the announcement of the Beef + Lamb Young Ambassador Chef comes on National Lamb Day – a day that celebrates the amazing work our farmers do to create a product that has become sort of after on a global scale.
The exceptional culinary skills displayed by these young chefs and their adept use of various cuts of beef and lamb can assure New Zealand farmers that the next generation of chefs are undoubtedly showcasing the excellence of New Zealand beef and lamb in restaurants around the country.
Nic will receive mentoring from the senior Ambassador Chefs and will also travel to Central Otago, the home of Provenance Lamb, for an immersive paddock to plate journey to gain an insight into the farming side of growing New Zealand beef and lamb.