A couple of months ago, up-and-coming NZ army chef Nicholas Todd went on one of the most exciting overseas deployments he could wish for. He’d been cooking his way towards it for several years, and last year, he put his superior culinary skills to the test to win New Zealand’s prestigious ServiceIQ Apprentice Chef of the Year Award 2017. The glittering accolade came with a stunning prize – a nine-day trip to the world-famous Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2018.
Here’s a brief report from the frontline.
In previous years, ServiceIQ Apprentice of the Year award winners have picked up culinary tips and tricks from top chefs running masterclasses at the festival. But Nicholas says he wanted to discover the secrets behind the success of some of Melbourne’s most celebrated fine dining restaurants.
“I was interested in experiencing these places to get an idea of how they set out their restaurants. From the moment you walk in, to how they set out the drinks, the table service, plating of dishes, and the meal flow. Just looking at the whole offering from start to finish was an education,” he says.
His recce of the festival involved dining at four top eateries including Vu de Monde – the elegant fine-dining restaurant with a top view of the city from the fifty-fifth floor of the Rialto Tower.
It’s also where Nicholas says he tasted the best dish ever: scampi in butter sauce. “It was very simple but it had an unforgettable flavour.”
He also managed to fit in sixteen different varieties of dumplings at Melbourne’s Oriental Teahouse which held an international extravaganza featuring exotic dumpling flavours from all over the world. In the two-hour dining event, he tasted everything from Nepalese turkey momos with tomato-cilantro sauce, Polynesian crab, Rangoon fried wontons, through to maple syrup dumplings direct from Quebec.
In fact, Nicholas was deeply impressed with every cuisine and eatery he visited, from sophisticated high-end restaurants to the small pop-up cafes dotted about the dining mecca.
“It was a real eye-opener to what you can do. It’s just so much bigger and there’s so much more opportunity and variety. The entire service was great and the food was exceptional. I was never disappointed,” he says.
“There are a lot more options for restaurants and a lot more variety and styles of cuisine. From the more casual cafes to formal dining experiences. They also have an abundant supply of high quality fresh ingredients of all kinds, from seafood, fruits and vegetables to exotic herbs and spices.”
Nicholas says winning the ServiceIQ Apprentice Chef of the Year Award was great for his confidence, while the trip to the Festival has been a huge inspiration.
“It’s a really cool week where you’re away from the demands of work, and instead you get the chance to see and experience what’s going on with food and service outside New Zealand.”
He credits the extraordinary experience for the things he wants to do a bit further down the track.
“One day I’d like to move to Australia and open a small pop-up outlet serving dishes made from the fantastic fresh ingredients they have over there.”
After four years training on-job with the New Zealand Defence Force in Christchurch, Nicholas successfully completed his ServiceIQ Cookery Apprenticeship and qualified as a professional chef at the end of last year. He also represented New Zealand at the international WorldSkills competition in Dubai in the same year.
Currently, he’s taking a year out of the army and adding to his repertoire of skills by working as Chef de Partie at the top rated St George Hotel in Christchurch.
“I’m just keen to get more experience by working in different places and learning from different people. Everywhere you go, you are always learning and getting more experience. It’s really good.”
For more information, please contact ServiceIQ on 0800 863 693 or email intel@ServiceIQ.org.nz