Wellington Trades Academy students crowned winners of the National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge

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Wellington Trades Academy (WTA) students Max Calvert and Eisha Scerri won the National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge (NZSSCC) held at MIT | Te Pūkenga in Auckland recently. The students' teamwork and calm under pressure saw them take first-place in the live final. 

NZSSCC is run by the Culinary Arts Development Trust, to promote the next generation of culinary talent, provide career pathways for students, and to foster relationships between secondary schools and the hospitality industry. 

Max, from Aotea College, Eisha from Kāpiti College, and their WTA tutor Toby Sanderson put their heads together to create the dishes to showcase this year's challenge ingredients: New Zealand-grown cauliflower and Waitoa chicken. 

After only four training sessions, the entrée, a cauliflower gnocchi with sage beurre noisette, blue cheese cream, basil fans, candied walnuts, and burst cherry tomatoes; and their main, a pan-seared chicken breast, with a spiced winglet, watercress gremolata, crackling, Horopito kumara, Kawakawa peas, manuka honeyed carrot, and braised red cabbage; were ready for the competition! 

Arriving in Auckland, they were confident and relaxed, and that attitude continued when the clock started ticking. Even when faced with their oven's temperature dropping accidentally, and the gas shutting off with 33 minutes to go, Max and Eisha stayed calm and professional.  

To them, it felt “no different to training.” They were right at the front of the room, so the seven other groups were out of sight and out of mind. “It was the most relaxed we’d felt throughout this whole process,” said Max.  

Because of the gas issue, judging was based on the technique and skill observed in the entrees. The judges were impressed by Max and Eisha's neat and hygienic work methods, the great flavour in their dishes, and their teamwork.  

“The judges were next level and included Ken O’Connell from Copia Restaurant and William Mordido from Bocuse D’or. It’s great for the students to see that these talented professionals are just regular people happy to share their knowledge,” said Toby Sanderson. 

Mr Sanderson was "incredibly proud of how the pair conducted themselves, they were calm and professional. I had full confidence they could win." 

"One of the best things about the competition is the chance for top culinary students from across the country to connect. A lot of these students go on to pursue careers in hospitality, the connections they make now are incredibly beneficial to their success in the industry."  

After the competition, the contestants were taken on a New Zealand Culinary Journey and toured around Auckland's top culinary spots, to witness life as a professional chef.  

Being 2023 NSSCC winners has put a career in the hospitality industry firmly in Max and Eisha’s future plans. Eisha wants to return to Whitireia and WelTec for a Level Four programme next year and gain the skills she needs to enter more competitions. While Max wants to commit himself to his rugby and pick up hospitality again after finishing high school.  

Find your trade while you study with WTA

Get a head start on your future whilst still at high school with Wellington Trades Academy (WTA). WTA offer a range of vocational pathways, like cookery, barbering, animal care and construction. You’ll gain NCEA credits whilst learning skills that will assist in preparing you for further study in your chosen area, or entry into employment or apprenticeships.

Find out more about WTA →

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