WITT Students Tackle Bocuse d'Or Culinary Competition

Monday, December 12, 2016

WITT student Nerys Whelan is set to achieve a culinary first when she vies to compete at the world’s most rigorous cooking competition – Bocuse d’Or – this month in Singapore.

Held every two years in Lyon France, this is the first time that a New Zealand team has been invited to compete at the Asia-Pacific Selection phase of the prestigious event.

Each of the 24 countries invited to compete at the competition put forward a team comprising a top chef and commis assistant.

Nerys said her selection as the New Zealand commis chef came about after the team she was in won last year’s Nestlé Toque d’Or national student culinary competition.

“After winning that event, I decided to send my resume to Blanket Bay Lodge Executive Chef, Corey Hume, to enquire about job vacancies.”

A Bocuse d’Or board member, Corey asked Nerys if she was interested in applying to be the New Zealand Commis chef team member.

Nerys said she didn’t hesitate to apply and was delighted to be selected to assist Chef David Schofield from Auckland who is the other part of the team.

The duo will head to Singapore this month for the Asia-Pacific Selection which takes place from 14-15 April. She and David will compete against teams from eight other countries including: Australia, Singapore, China, India, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Indonesia and Japan. The top five teams from that event will then go on to compete at the grand final in France in January 2017.

Each team is given five and a half hours to create one elaborate meat platter presentation for 8 people, plus three original garnishes, and plate-up 10 portions of a fish dish. The meat platter is presented to a panel of judges who are some of the most illustrious chefs in the world.

Nerys said taking part in Nestlé Toque d’Or provided a solid platform for honing her culinary competition skills.

“It also gave me the opportunity to effectively deal with the nerves and pressure that comes with taking part in a live cooking competition,” she said.

“When we’re in Singapore, we will need to cook and present to perfection and absolutely nail the basics like seasoning. But most of all, we won’t be able to let the stress of it all affect us. This is where the Nestlé Toque d’Or competition was great training, giving me a wonderful opportunity to learn how to keep calm under pressure.”

Nerys said between now and competition day, she will be looking to take in as much knowledge and skills as possible from all of her mentors and coach. “I’m very excited and honoured to be working alongside such a talented chef as David. While we have a lot of hard work ahead of us it’s really all part of the fun.” Nerys said she and David are currently in the final stages of planning their menu and testing recipes.

“Distance has been our greatest challenge. David is juggling his Melbourne restaurant with his competition commitments, as well as preparing for the opening of his new Auckland restaurant - ‘Meat Fish Wine’ - in June. However, that won’t stop us from being the very best that we can be on competition day.”

When it comes to giving advice to this year’s Nestlé Toque d’Or competitors, Nerys has a few simple tips.

“Stay relaxed, have fun and remember your training. Take as much away from the experience as possible.”

Bocuse d'Or has catapulted many talented chefs onto the international stage, after they have won the prestigious competition.

The day after the final competition of Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, Chef Bocuse hosts a breakfast at his Michelin 3-star restaurant in Collonges. It includes a special ceremony honouring the top three teams where plaques engraved with their names and countries are placed on the front walkway into the restaurant.

Nerys Whelan now has her sights firmly set on seeing a plaque bearing her and David’s names on that French restaurant.