Sourcing a rare fish that lives in the Antarctic’s subzero waters is just one of the challenges that New Zealand’s first ever Bocuse d’Or team has taken on in their quest for the ultimate culinary prize.
Bocuse d'Or was started in 1987 and is the world's largest culinary contest but New Zealand has never put a team forward before now.
New Zealand’s Bocuse d’Or team is Chef Candidate David Schofield, twice named New Zealand Chef of the Year, Commis Nerys Whelan, a Toque d’Or supreme winner last year, and AUT alumni Mark Gregory – New Zealand’s first recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France – is coach.
To reach the grand final in Leon, France in January 2017, the New Zealand team has to be named in the top five at this week’s Asia-Pacific Bocuse d’Or selection round in Singapore where they’ll be up against teams from Australia, Singapore, China, India, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Indonesia and Japan.
Bocuse d’Or New Zealand President John Kelleher, a senior lecturer at AUT, is accompanying the team to Singapore and says there has been a huge amount of preparation in the months – and even years – leading up to the competition.
“Before we could think about putting forward a team we needed to establish Bocuse d’Or New Zealand and the Bocuse d’Or New Zealand Committee, we had to gain the international body’s approval and then gain an invitation to compete in the world’s most prestigious culinary competition.”
“We’ve done it because we know New Zealand deserves to be recognised at this level – we know we have the talent and the skills, but until now no one has had the guts. To be part of the competition at this level is really putting yourself on the line to be judged.”
Gregory, who is also a former British Chef of The Year and co-owner of restauranthub.co.nz, agrees describing it as “the Everest of the culinary world”.
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 original garnishes is where the local team will look to showcase some unique New Zealand flavour and flair – but the ingredients are under wraps for now.
Teams have been told in advance that the meat dish will need to use Augustus Angus beef tenderloin and foie gras, and the fish dish has to use toothfish.
Even Schofield, a two-time Chef of the Year winner who is no stranger to culinary competitions, says Bocuse d’Or brings unique challenges.
“Toothfish lives in subzero waters and comes from one of the most isolated places on earth, so just getting hold of it to trial our recipes was incredibly difficult and it’s like nothing else I have ever cooked with.”
Apart from preparing this one-of-a-kind fish, the teams are also having to source their chosen ingredients in Singapore and prepare their dishes in front of a live audience.
Last week was the first time all the team members were able to come together at AUT to spend a week fine-tuning their recipes, presentation and flavours.
“With team members located in different parts of the country, a lot of the preparation including working out the menu, trialling and refining recipes, and swapping feedback, has been done via phone calls, Skype and email.”
Kelleher says being part of Bocuse d’Or is very important for New Zealand.
“It gives our young, up-and-coming chefs something to aspire to, it encourages the industry to strive for excellence and it showcases New Zealand as a global culinary contender, building the country’s reputation as a food tourism destination.”
The Asia-Pacific Bocuse d’Or selection round takes place in Singapore from 14-15 April. The grand final is held every two years in Lyon, France and will take place in January 2017.