TWO young trainee chefs from Crowne Plaza Hawkesbury Valley's Harvest Restaurant at Windsor took away bronze medallions from a recent cooking competition against 14 other teams from around the state - a solid effort for the first and second-year chef duo.
Second-year apprentice Isabel Ademovic, 19 years old from Glenmore Park, and first-year apprentice Joan Pirovic, 18 from Londonderry, competed over two days in the Nestle Golden Chef's Hat Award's metropolitan cook-off, judged by industry professionals at West Ryde Tafe.
The competition was a first for both chefs, who were judged on a range of criteria including how clean they worked, how organised their paperwork was, to things like taste, presentation and creative flair.
Team leader Isabelle said the girls were challenged to create one main dish and one dessert - three covers of each - and the biggest challenge was being in a new kitchen.
"Being in a different environment meant we came up against scenarios that were unforeseen, and we had limited time to adapt on the spot," she told the Gazette.
"For example, some of the appliances were different; they had a blast chiller there, whereas in our kitchen [at the Crowne] we use the freezer, so we had to change the way we did certain elements."
Joan said a big challenge for her was adapting to a different oven, which altered the cooking times of certain elements of the dishes.
"The competition oven wasn't as strong so it took 20 minutes longer," she said.
The judges reportedly praised the girls for the cleanliness of their work stations, and they were deemed the cleanest-working duo in the competition.
They prepared their menus by meeting up outside of work for three weeks before the competition, perfecting certain elements with the help of executive chef Brent Hughes, who trained up his two apprentices for the competition.
"I was there on the day of the competition and I wanted to make sure they had good support, especially as this was their first competition," Brent said.
The competition guidelines stated each team must use a specific cut of lamb as their protein and a minimum of five Nestle Professional food products in their menus.
The Hawkesbury team's main dish was a dehydrated demi-glazed crusted lamb rump with carrot and lime puree, served with sous vide leek and marinated juniper berry mushrooms, tarragon and lime croquette and a herb pangrattato.
Dessert was a white chocolate and kohlrabi pannacotta with a ginger mousse centre and a lime and chilli coulis, served with coconut meringue and a chilli chocolate soil.
Both girls said they enjoyed the competition and would do it again next year.
"It was a big learning curve, seeing other chefs in their kitchens and seeing what ideas they came up with," Joan said.
Isabelle said her favourite part was being able to meet some "amazing and well-respected chefs in the industry" who gave the girls feedback and tips to take away with them.
"The whole experience also improved Joan and my teamwork, and we brought that back to the kitchen [at Crowne]. We became much more organised [because of the competition]."
Brent said he was enormously proud of his two apprentices: "It's great to see young chefs doing so well and having such a great experience and these are the sorts of chefs we need more of in the industry."