Top Chef Piles it on for Student Culinary Success

Monday, December 12, 2016

Despite a hectic schedule that includes competing at this year’s Culinary Olympics in Germany, award-winning chef Darren Wright is still finding time to take on the job of Chief Judge at the country’s top student culinary competition.

Darren said Nestlé Toque d’Or is a highlight on the annual culinary calendar and being part of it is something he could not pass up.

“It’s an event that brings together under the ‘one roof’ the country’s top student culinary and restaurant service stars." 

“For over three hours, they slug it out against each other in a live kitchen cook off that is both fast paced and frenetic. The talent is raw and so too are their nerves as, they compete to ultimately find out who will be crowned the country’s top emerging hospitality talents.

“It’s an incredible experience where the industry gets to see the next generation of culinary talents before they go on to make names for themselves in the industry.”

As vice-captain of the NZChefs Olympic Squad Darren is all too familiar with the high stakes and commitment it takes to excel in the competitive culinary arena.

Outside of work, he is busy preparing the Squad for the upcoming IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany which take place in October this year.

“This year is a particularly big one for us because it’s been 28 years since representatives from New Zealand competed at the Culinary Olympics. We’ve been working hard on a range of ideas for a long time and are fully committed to bringing home gold.

“It’s also important that we throw our support behind the students who will be competing at Nestlé Toque d’Or because they could potentially compete at other events like the Culinary Olympics.”

NZChefs National President and organiser of the event, Graham Hawkes, said Darren's strong international standing made him a clear choice for Chief Judge.

"Darren is a hugely successful chef whose expertise is highly sought after. This will be the third time that he has been appointed as Chief Judge and we are thrilled that he is able to juggle his work and competition commitments to take on the role once more.”

Over the years, Darren and his wife Leanne, have built up two award-winning restaurants including Chillingworth Rd in Christchurch where they currently reside.

Along the way, Darren has been awarded numerous accolades including being named as a Platinum Beef + Lamb NZ Ambassador Chef which carries a lifetime status.

Darren said he is looking forward to seeing this year’s batch of students who are competing at Nestle Toque d’or go on to achieve great things in their careers.

“Whether it's on the international stage or in a rewarding environment closer to home, it will have been amazing to have seen them in action at the start.

“Competing at Nestlè Toque d’Or sets competitors apart from other peers within their industry. The students are chosen to compete because they are talented at what they do. It also clearly signals to a future employer that this is someone who has been identified as having the potential to do well in what can often be a tough and demanding industry.”

To compete at Nestlé Toque d’Or, the institutes put forward a team of three who, under the guidance of their tutors, spend months preparing for it. They must perfect a three course meal for six people and practise delivering each course to three diners and the judges all within a set timeframe.

Nestlé Toque d’Or is New Zealand’s longest running and most prestigious student cookery and food service event. It is held in 17 countries around the world and has launched the careers of several world-famous chefs, including Jamie Oliver.

The 26th Nestlé Toque d’Or will be held on 29 July at the Auckland Showgrounds. An awards dinner will be held later in the evening where the winning team will be announced.

Sponsors of this year’s event are: Nestlé Professional, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, vegetables.co.nz, Akaroa Salmon, House of Knives and Moffat.