Nurturing the future leaders of the Australian restaurant industry

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 2nd July 2009

Australia’s finest young chefs and waiters last week completed a tour of Victoria’s leading food and wine regions in preparation for judging of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence competition.

The competition, co-founded by celebrated restaurateurs Luke Mangan and Lucy Allon, is now in its fifth year and rewards the leading young performers in Australia’s competitive restaurant industry. The competition was set-up to nurture young talent toward becoming the next Neil Perry, Guy Grossi or, even, Luke Mangan.

Skills shortage

Too often some of the brightest stars leave the hospitality industry before they have even made their mark as the demands of long and unorthodox hours take their toll. The sector has consequently been blighted by high turnover levels and a skills shortage – with highly qualified chefs and waiters often in short supply.

The sugar-coated view of what it is like to be a chef exhibited on popular TV shows has drawn many in but often they neglect to mention the hard work required to get to the top. Adding to this is that many of the young waiters in the industry often don’t view waiting as a long-term career choice. As such, it is hoped the Young Chef and Waiter of the Year awards will encourage potential leaders to make the necessary commitment to go from burgeoning talent to recognised star.

From paddock to plate

Last week’s tour saw the state and territory winners visit some of Victoria’s leading seafood, pork, dairy, meat, horticulture and viticulture producers to strengthen their understanding of the journey from paddock to plate*.

Selecting the finest produce is something Mangan is clearly passionate about – a chef is, after all, only as good as their ingredients. The invaluable time spent with the producers not only provided an insight into what it takes to produce the highest quality food but also intimate knowledge of how to select the finest ingredients and creative new ideas for using them.

Young Waiter of the Year - Tarago River Cheese

After deriving inspiration from the producers, the week culminated in a celebratory dinner at TarraWarra Estate on Thursday night. Industry leaders and members of the media were treated to a night of sampling some of Victoria’s finest produce cooked by Australia’s best young chefs and served by the nation’s leading young waiters (right).

Dairy Australia, one of the supporters of the event, said the week presented a great opportunity to educate the next generation of chefs and waiters.

“By taking the best young chefs and waiters directly to the dairy industry’s producers, we’re educating them about the quality of Australian dairy products,” Managing Director Mike Ginnivan said. “It’s important for the culinary industry to connect what they’re cooking (to where it comes from) – it’s about that connection from paddock to plate.”

Judgment day

The finalists for Young Chef of the Year and Young Waiter of the Year returned to Sydney on the weekend for judging on Monday. The chefs competed in a mystery box cook-off judged by some of the most highly regarded names in the Australian restaurant industry including Tetsuya Wakuda and Peter Doyle. The waiters, meanwhile, faced a series of tests on customer service skills, and food and wine knowledge.

The national winners will be announced on August 10, with the victors to represent Australia in the prestigious San Pellegrino Cooking Cup in Venice. The Young Restaurateur of the Year – a new category added this year – will also be announced on August 10. Details about all of the finalists can be found at: www.youngchef.com.au/.

* The tour was made possible with the assistance of Australian Pork Limited, Dairy Australia, Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC), Grape & Wine Research and Development Corporation, Horticulture Australia Limited, Meat & Livestock Australia, and the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation.