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Kiwi chef mixes with the best in Melbourne


Winning gold was not the only reward for young chef Tamara Johnson. The young chef also got to spend time in Melbourne mixing with some of cooking’s global superstars as her reward for becoming ServiceIQ Apprentice Chef of the Year at the National Culinary Fare. She discusses her immersive experience at the 2014 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.

Of all the amazing dishes you tried over the festival, which stand out?

My favourite food and wine match was at the Relais and Chateaux dinner. New Zealand’s own talent James Stapley presented a Marron and White Miso dish accompanied by a Zeppelin Eden Valley Riesling. The wine’s citrus notes of lemon and powerful lime beautifully complemented the crayfish. It added such a nice freshness all whilst being so delicate.

Other highlights included Rudolfo Guzman and his team from Chile. They would go out and forage most of their produce for the day and only use what they could find. They have their own version of a hangi, called a curanto. We were able to sample some of the liquid captured from the curanto and all the flavours from the tepu wood to the nalca (Chilean Rhubarb) leaves were so prominent. I loved that!

Chef Ángel León based his menu around fish for a Gastronomy of Southern Spain showcase. He created traditional meat dishes and items such as Oxtail Soup, and Pancetta and Marrow, but using various local fish and seafoods in such an interesting way that he is able to almost match that same flavour and texture as it would have been had he used meat instead of seafood.

What was your experience of the Masterclass?

I got the chance to have a taste of what it was like to work for some of the top chefs from around the world. Absolutely amazing!

I worked beside chefs Luigi Taglienti, Scott Pickett, Mauro Callegari and Johnny Iuzzini. All very unique in the ways they prep, cook and serve their dishes and different in their upbringings, beliefs and cuisines. I loved the consistency of quality, the creativity and the passion.

It was such a great opportunity to first prepare the food with them, then to be able to cook and plate the dishes. You were so involved from start to finish. I definitely appreciated it.

One of my best experiences from the week was the Chef Jam, a professionals-only evening of lively demonstrations designed to inspire the food and wine industry. I was able to help one of the top New York pastry chefs, Johnny Iuzzini, in his chocolate demonstration. We had met during the Masterclasses and I had told him how I had recently won the ServiceIQ Apprentice Chef of the Year – which he thought was pretty cool.

He later asked if I would like to help with his demo at the Chef Jam, and I jumped at the chance. He had an array of tempered chocolate shapes and laminates to show off. We used a cold-setting spray and ganache to create a chocolate masterpiece and I also used some of the laminated chocolate sheets to decorate a cake. It was a real rush working with such talent.

What did you learn about the hospitality industry and your career as a pro chef?

Before the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival I was very burnt out. I had started to question whether this chef thing was still for me. But I found out very quickly that the fire was still burning somewhere inside, nearly gone but still lingering. I learnt that there is way more to the culinary industry than meets the eye. It’s not all Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White screaming ‘til they are blue in the face. You will have times where you feel like every day is the same and you can let it get to you and bring you down. Or you can come out on top and rock it.

I found my passion again. I was constantly surrounded by people who love what they do and it’s so contagious that you have to get in on it too!

I loved how exciting and crazy the culinary scene is at the moment. Everyone is so full of ideas and is so open to trying anything. I knew this when I started and it’s still very true. You can never stop learning in this industry and that is what makes it so special and why it brings so many of us together.

Tamara Johnson lives in Auckland, where she works for top contemporary restaurant, Clooney.

She won the 2013 ServiceIQ Apprentice Chef of the Year, with the prize being a trip to Melbourne for the Food & Wine Festival. Tamara says the prize was truly wonderful, with highlights being the special introductions and connections that ServiceIQ organised for her.

At this year’s Culinary Fare, the 2014 ServiceIQ Apprentice Chef of the Year will be selected, with a prize of a similar trip to next year’s Festival in Melbourne.

You can find out more about ServiceIQ’s cookery and hospitality training and apprenticeships here.

Tamara Johnson Melbourne

For more information, please contact ServiceIQ on 0800 863 693 or email