Secondary school students are taking hospitality and health seriously in a competition that focuses on cooking and eating local, nutritious food. Health reporter Catherine Milford explains.
Of all the skills we need, few are as important as knowing how to cook and eat nutritious food. Unfortunately, basic culinary skills are becoming less common in younger
Kiwis and the number of young people choosing hospitality as a career option has dropped dramatically. But some are bucking the trend.
For several months, students from schools across New Zealand have been vying for a spot in the final of the National Secondary Schools Culinary Competition (NSSCC), held at Auckland’s Manukau Institute of Technology on 4 September. In regional heats, students were asked to prepare, cook and present two entrée portions of a dish using fresh NZ-grown tomatoes in a 60-minute period.
In the September final, teams of two are asked to individually plate four portions of an entrée, using NZ tomatoes, and four portions of a main course, with at least three NZ-grown vegetables (one of which must be a potato) and chicken as the protein. Each dish must meet healthy eating guidelines.
In the final, eight teams from the regions are judged by some of NZ’s top chefs, including My Kitchen Rules New Zealand co-hosts Gareth Stewart and Ben Bayly, and Jeremy Schmid, chef/owner of The Officers Mess, all of whom are passionate about helping the next generation of NZ food heroes.
“This competition actively promotes creating balanced, nutritious meals with the correct amounts of starch, vegetables, protein and salt – something a large percentage of New Zealanders just don’t know how to create,” explains NSSCC head judge Mark Wylie. “These competitors are our next generation in the hospitality industry. They are the ones making food for us in the future. It’s important to embed good nutrition information in them.”
Maggie Carroll (17), the Canterbury region winner from Burnside High School in Christchurch, says the competition has taught her a great deal about nutrition and given her a deeper understanding of food. “I’ve learned so much about how to put together a balanced meal,” Ms Carroll says. “Having written papers on obesity in New Zealand, I’m very aware of the importance of being educated about food and knowing how to put together a recipe. Being judged by chefs with so much knowledge has helped me so much.”
Ms Carroll’s dish, above, comprises a tomato tart with a creamy tomato sauce, fresh tomato and basil salad, parmesan wafer, goat’s cheese quenelle and a smoky tomato foam (she made her own shortcrust tart pastry infused with tomato purée).
Veges a future career focus
Finalist and Waikato heat winner, Te Awamutu College student Morgan McKenzie (18), is contemplating a career that combines hospitality and childcare, so has been focusing a lot on incorporating vegetables into her dishes. “NSSCC has taught me so much about what to eat, and how to eat,” Ms McKenzie says. “Vegetables, such as carrots and beans, are so easy to use and really versatile, there are so many ways to prepare and eat them.”
Keeping the next generation healthy
NSSCC head judge Mark Wylie’s (right) career has included positions as the former director of kitchens at SkyCity and executive chef at Soul Bar. His CV also includes exclusive Scottish resort Gleneagles, Sheraton Hotels in Fiji and Westin Hotels in California. Now in his fifth year of judging secondary school students, Mr Wylie says it’s never been more important for students to learn how to cook well.
“It takes a lot of discipline to enter a competition like this but it’s an amazing experience and many of the professional chefs who judge, and come to watch, are doing so to find their chefs of the future,” he says. “If these guys see someone good, they will snap them up and teach them to grow and learn. It’s one of the best career opportunities they may get.”