Euro’s Apprentice Chef first in NZ to pass ultimate skills test
Talented Taygen Simmons from top Auckland eatery Euro Bar and Restaurant, is rapt to be taking her career to the next level, and reigning as New Zealand’s first apprentice chef to pass the challenging Commercial Competence Assessment (CCA) - an important test and special feature of ServiceIQ’s new chef training programme, the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Cookery.
Taygen started her ServiceIQ apprenticeship at Euro straight out of school aged 17. Less than three years later she successfully qualified as a professional chef. Excellent. No more exams.
Well, not quite. The ambitious young chef recently leapt at ServiceIQ’s offer that gave her the chance to put her professional culinary skills to the ultimate test and gain the new CCA certificate – icing on the cake for her CV and career.
“My competitive streak came out and I wanted to be the first chef to get it,” says Taygen.
At 6.30am on a mid-winter morning in Euro’s kitchen, Taygen assembled her ingredients and started the assessment, her every move scrutinised and marked by two hawkeyed assessors.
To succeed, she needed to demonstrate world class skills while creating and serving three complex dishes cooked to perfection, in just three hours.
The CCA is deemed of higher value than “work competent” and is critical to gaining a professional chef qualification.
In essence, it means that the qualifying chef will have a broad level of fundamental concepts, transferrableknowledge and skills that enable continued high performance from one workplace to another.
They will be able to meet the productivity standards of an experienced chef, which may include speed, volume of output, safety and quality. And they will take full responsibility for their own performance, rectify errors, and deal effectively with unexpected situations.
Back to the kitchen. Usually as cool as cucumber, this time the pressure felt overwhelming says Taygen.
“It was a test of everything I’d learned over almost three years and it made me very nervous. But after about half an hour I relaxed and really got into it.”
Practice makes perfect. Weeks before, Taygen called on Euro’s top chefs to critique the menu she had to design for the assessment, and she practiced each dish to prove her expertise and creative style.
“My bosses recommended a lamb rack because it shows off a lot more technique and skill, and I selected fish because I wanted to demonstrate that I can do it well,” says Taygen.
On her menu: an elegant entrée of lamb rack with vegetables and mint; a main dish of moist pan fried terakihi with crab and chive risotto; and a delicate and refreshing panna cotta with passionfruit sorbet and kaffir lime for dessert.
She finished the test “just in time”, with three perfectly delicious dishes, saluted by the assessors.
“It was a huge relief to succeed,” says Taygen. “One of the best things about cooking and working in an open kitchen is being able to see the reaction you get from diners when they taste your food.”
The smart young chef who only decided to take cooking at school because it fitted in with the class timetable – “it never occurred to me I would do it as a career” - says she owes a lot to Euro’s great chefs.
Their expertise, skill and infinite knowledge inspired her to succeed, no matter how tough it was at times to balance the demands of the job with on-going training.
“It was challenging to complete an apprenticeship at Euro where, if you can take on responsibility, they will give it to you. I was working 50 to 60 hours a week and doing my apprenticeship work on top of that just because I couldn’t fit it in with the work schedule.”
Today, with CCA out of the way, she’s working on the garnish and main line sections at the busy restaurant, which means taking responsibility for cooking the perfect steak and succulent fish dishes for hundreds of discerning diners.
It’s another step up in her career, and she relishes having the time to put in the work it takes to perform well in that part of the kitchen.
“I love working at Euro and learning from our chefs. Ultimately, I want to travel and experience all the different foods from different cultures. Every chef I’ve worked with at Euro has done it and it seems exactly what you need to do to gain a wider perspective.”