Wellington Trades Academy takes top honours at national schools’ culinary challenge hosted by MIT | Te Pūkenga

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Culinary creations using cauliflower and chicken were on the menu at the National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge held at MIT | Te Pūkenga last week.

The national cook-off was won by hospitality students from Wellington Trades Academy, the secondary-tertiary programme run by Whitireia and WelTec | Te Pūkenga.

Eight teams of students from throughout the motu were given ninety minutes to create two dishes dissected and critiqued by a panel of top judges, including Ken O’Connell, chef and owner of Auckland’s Copia Restaurant, and Adrian Brett-Chinnery, national executive chef at Compass Group.

The Wellington Trades Academy team of Eisha Scerri and Max Calvert took out the top honours with their cauliflower gnocchi accompanied by different flavours of blue cheese, basil and walnuts.

Their winning dishes also featured a pan-seared chicken breast, accompanied by Māori-influenced flavours such as horopito and kawakawa and braised winter vegetables.

“Not only did their dishes sing professionalism, but the judges were also impressed with their technical skills in the kitchen and the way they worked seamlessly with each other,” says Craig Lucas, MIT Te Pūkenga senior chef lecturer, who managed the competition.

First prize included a Moffat oven for the students’ school and gift vouchers worth $250.

In second place was the Botany Downs Secondary College team of Wei Zin Chan and Ashley Hewett who prepared an entrée with a multitude of cauliflower textures and a rolled chicken breast main dish, accompanied by a parsnip and celeriac puree and sauteed baby vegetables. 

Tied for third place was the Whanganui High School team of Olivia Cox and Madelyn Connole, the Burnside High team of Maddie Trafford and Kaitlyn Braithwaite, and the Southland Boys’ High School team of Caleb Ridd and Ngakau McKerchar.

The winning teams were presented with their awards at a dinner hosted at Dine, the training restaurant at MIT Te Pūkenga.

“We were delighted to host the event for the seventh year running,” says Mr Lucas, who was also on the seven-member judging panel.

“It showcases the state-of-the art facilities and hands-on teaching that we offer at the School of Hospitality and also gives the students the opportunity to test their skills in a commercial kitchen setting.

“Competing in the kitchen can be a very stressful event but all the students performed exceptionally well under pressure, producing creative and innovative dishes that were rated very highly by our judges.

“It’s exciting to know that we have this exceptional calibre of emerging talent set to join our hospitality sector in the future.”

Competing schools included:

  • Auckland North – Kerikeri High School
  • Auckland South – Botany Downs Secondary College
  • Waikato/BOP – Taumaranui High School
  • Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay – St Johns College
  • Tasman/Canterbury – Burnside High School
  • Whanganui/Taranaki – Whanganui High School
  • Otago/Southland – Southland Boys’ High School
  • Wellington/Wairarapa – Wellington Trades Academy (At WelTec)

Judges included:

  • Renny Aprea (AUT chef lecturer)
  • Ken O’Connell (chef/owner of Copia Restaurant)
  • William Mordido (Bocuse D’or competitor 2023)
  • Kelda Skelton (BIDfood sales manager)
  • Adrian Brett-Chinnery (National Executive Chef at Compass Group)
  • Sach Kadam (MIT chef lecturer)
  • Craig Lucas (MIT senior chef lecturer)

Republished with permission from MIT | Te Pūkenga

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