When the WelTec team hit the competition floor at this year’s Nestlé Toque d’Or event, their efforts were the culmination of months of hard work and training, coupled with careful selection of the right raw talent.
WelTec senior chef lecturer Scott Campbell says the team spent two months practising and completed six full training sessions in the run up to the event.
“All of the team members are full time students who hold down part-time jobs. One of them also travels three hours a day just to get to and from school – so it was a huge commitment on their part.
“To get the right combination of people in the team, we look at the students carefully from day one of their course and pick who we think would be the best fit. What we look at are industry experience, commitment, knife skills and personal drive. The two kitchen students had all of those qualities and the restaurant service competitor had a lot of industry experience.”
Scott says the team’s game plan was simply to do the very best that they could on the day and to enjoy the experience.
Devising the menu that ultimately helped the team win second place at the event was a process of evolution.
“We generally spend each year looking at concepts, trying a few things out, getting them critiqued then choosing the dishes that we’ll take to competition.”
While the team’s effort on the day looked close to flawless, there had been numerous challenges along the way.
In the lead up to the event, the team battled sickness, floods and finding kitchen spaces where they could train.
“Just getting to Auckland was a feat itself,” Scott says.
“We have two vans that we drive up in which require at least three drivers for safety reasons. This means having at least three staff members away for a few days during the busiest time at WelTec. The mental challenge of knowing that there are 10 or more other teams trained and focussed on beating us is also another hurdle to overcome.”
Aside from the competitive element, Scott says competing at Nestlé Toque d’Or provides an opportunity for the students and WelTec to benchmark themselves against other teams from around the country.
“It gives the students great opportunities to learn and develop their skills for their future.”
Past WelTec competitors have gone on to work in London at some of the best restaurants in the world such as The Fat Duck, take up employment as head chefs and own their own businesses
This year’s trio are all planning to travel after gaining some solid work experience in New Zealand.
Helping teams get to Nestlé Toque d’Or has been a passion for Scott for the past 15 years. Along the way, he’s seen two teams win the top Award and this year’s team come within inches of winning the event.
“Regardless of how they place, the thing I enjoy most about it all is seeing students’ skills evolve and their confidence grow. I also love the comradery of the team as a whole.”
For Scott who has worked at WelTec for 17 years, his career has been a full and interesting one. Originally from Scotland he moved to Jersey after completing his City and Guilds qualifications. A trip down under ultimately landed him in New Zealand where he finally settled in Wellington.
Aside from winning Nestlé Toque d’Or twice in a row, another of his career highlights was being part of the team that represented New Zealand and won the Global Pacific Challenge in Vanuatu.
For this year’s batch of graduates, Scott says some of the challenges they will encounter include getting into a job that they enjoy and staying in it for a reasonable period of time, plus dealing with pay rates as they progress from commis to chef de partie.
“One of the big challenges for the industry is simply making money which nowadays is really hard, given that customers aren’t keen on being charged more for dining out. This is particularly difficult when food prices are constantly on the rise.”
When it comes to future trends, Scott says the emergence of new technology, and the continued migration from fine dining to more casual eating out experiences will continue to dominate the industry.
He says WelTec is doing a great job of equipping students to tackle the industry head on.
“We do that by having a great teaching team in place who regularly do industry work themselves, as a way of keeping their finger on the pulse of where things are at and generally upskilling. We’re also well backed by management who encourage and support us with what we do.”
For now, Scott has his sight firmly set on winning the top award again at next year’s Nestlé Toque d’Or.
“I believe we are on the right track and this year’s ranking in the top three is proof of that. Perhaps the one thing that we will do differently is get more industry involvement in our training.
“Wellington has a thriving restaurant and café scene supported by WelTec graduates and the many Wellingtonians who love their food and coffee. We’re ideally placed to draw on their expertise and elevate our team’s effort to achieve another win in 2018.”