The lot of a food blogger is generally a happy one and I had this reaffirmed to me this week, without any doubt at all, when I was invited to spend time with some of the past finalists and winners of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence awards program. The Appetite for Excellence program is run each year by Electrolux and the applications for this years program opened on Monday 21 February. This innovative and exciting program aims to help support, nurture and inspire Australia’s young hospitality staff with awards for the Best Young Chef, Best Young Waiter and Best Young Restarauteur. My friend George, over at The Foodologist, has posted a great overview of the program this week, so I suggest you look there for a more detailed account of both the program and the wonderful prizes awarded to the winner. What I wanted to share with you – if I can – was just a little of the excitement and enthusiasm that emanated from this vibrant and inspiring group of young people!
This particular group of young chefs and waiters was brought to Adelaide to spend two days soaking up as much knowledge as possible from Stephen and Prue Henschke of Henschke Wines and consisted of finalists and winners of the program from 2007 through to 2010. I had the chance to speak with most of them individually and was struck by how very motivated, passionate and driven they all are. They each had varying reasons for joining the program and, without exception, each commented on how much more they had gained from their participation than they had anticipated. The final prize, which includes a trip to Venice, is certainly worth coveting but each of the participants I spoke to felt that they were on a winning streak well before the actual winners were announced! The application process is, in itself, an opportunity for personal growth and extension as it made them sit down and really think through their reasons for the path they had chosen, giving them the opportunity to reflect on and define where they wanted to be. Once part of the program, they all felt they enjoyed the kind of challenges, camaraderie, mentoring and guidance that money just could not buy.
These people are the future of the restaurant and hospitality industry in Australia, so I thought I would give you a brief introduction to just a few of them.
Best Young Waitress winner 2010- Louise Tamayo – is now the Assistant Manager at Justin North’s Becasse restaurant in Sydney. A Social Work graduate, Louise dashed her mother’s hopes for her when she decided to take up waiting as her ‘proper’ job. She enthuses about the value of the friendships and networking the program has given her access to. She finds the opportunity to share information and knowledge with her colleagues invaluable and feels that she is far more in touch with issues in food and wine nationally than she would ever have been had she not been given this opportunity.
Oh, and the validation this award has given her has made her mum very happy indeed!
Best Young Waiter Runner-up 2010 – Josh Smith – is the manager at Black Cow Bistro in Launceston. Having worked for some years in various restaurants, including Number 8, the Crown Casino’s flagship restaurant, Josh thought he had covered his area of expertise fairly well and was looking for new ways to challenge himself. His participation in the program has changed his entire lifestyle and given him a whole new passion for food. These days he strives to find more personal ways to connect with food as he steers clear of the supermarket and supports the local producers at the farmgate.
Best Young Chef Winner 2008 – Jacob Nicholson – is now the Head Chef at Circa, The Prince in Melbourne. Jake is a very quiet, modest young man who, like all of the others, appreciates the fellowship he has gained from the program, the broadening of his skills as he rose to meet the challenges as they were presented, the broadening of his horizons as he became more aware of his potential and who credits the program as the single most significant factor in his promotion from sous chef at Circa, to head chef.
Last night, in Stephen and Prue Henschke’s back yard and with their iconic wines on (and in) hand, a fortunate few of us were treated to an indication of what talent, skill and passion can do when combined with some of the very best local produce that South Australia has to offer. With a range of dishes all made from fresh, local products, including fresh cheeses from The Barossa Valley Cheese Company, brilliant SA seafood provided by Ferguson Australia and the delicious pork and poultry products of Saskia Beer we sat down to an amazing feast prepared by all of this remarkable young talent and it was sublime.
All I can say is – if this is the future for our restaurants, bring it on!!