Maitland Apprentice Chef cooks her way to London

Maitland Apprentice Chef cooks her way to London

Earlier this month, three aspiring young Hunter chefs cooked for their careers with sights set on a trip to London to work with one of the world’s leading chefs, a former Novocastrian.

It was twenty-year-old, third-year apprentice, Ashleigh Handsaker who works at Fratelli Roma Restaurant in Maitland that won over the judges and the $10,000 cash prize.

The Hunter Culinary Association, in conjunction with TAFE NSW, hosted this prestigious annual event in its milestone 20th year (with a slight layover from COVID, awarding last night’s 2022 rendition slightly late in the calendar), which aims to recognise and nurture one of the Hunter Region’s most talented young chefs.

Eight preliminary finalists cooked for their chance to work under former Novocastrian and Australian chef, Brett Graham in his highly acclaimed London restaurant – The Ledbury.

The three remaining finalists fought it out in an energy-filled cook-off, all vying for the $10,000 career kickstart.

The $10,000 prize sponsored by both the Hunter Culinary Association and TAFE NSW will assist in covering airfares and accommodation in London.

According to the judges, second and third place was even harder to split but after tough debate, it was Jimmy Joan’s apprentice Nicholas Sanderson who was named runner up and Emilio’s Tyler Swinkels who was placed third and each took home prizes to help establish their careers.

Head Teacher at TAFE Newcastle, Mark McManus said it’s no surprise that the judges assessed Ashleigh as incredibly confident, organised and a great communicator.

“With untapped energy, impressive organisational skills in the kitchen, incredible talent on the plate, and a thirst for the opportunity that awaits her, this scholarship is bound to be the beginning of the next step in this twenty-year-old from Maitland’s career,” Mark said.

Previous winners of the Brett Graham Scholarship have included Troy Rhoades Brown of Muse, Garreth Robbs of Bistro Molines, Chris Thornton of Restaurant Mason, George Mirosevich of the Bare Chested Chef, and Josh Gregory of Muse Kitchen, amongst others.

Chief Judge Tracey Amos from TAFE was accompanied by Mount Pleasant Chef and HCA deputy chair Kyle Whitbourne, former scholarship winner George Mirosevich, and NBN News Presenter, Lauren Kempe on the Judging panel. All four commented on the incredible talent displayed by this year’s competing young Apprentices.

“I am so proud of the high standard of ability and passion demonstrated by each of our students,” Mark said.

“This Scholarship is an incredible chance to learn from the best, hone their skills and bring the knowledge and experience they learn overseas back to the region, for us to enjoy and others to learn from.”

Chair of Hunter Culinary Association, Gus Maher shared that he was so proud of what was achieved here with their partner TAFE NSW.

“Time and time again Brett Graham Scholars have repaid our investment handsomely, returning to The Hunter, with many now our emerging industry leaders,” Gus said.

The Hunter Culinary Association is a not-for-profit organisation, led by industry professionals, offering a suite of scholarships and awards that support aspiring young chefs, apprentices, and front-of-house professionals.

As a region, the Hunter offers a culinary destination featuring diverse and abundant dining experiences ranging from quality cafes to hatted restaurants, which proudly showcase passionate and talented industry professionals, regionally sourced produce and award-winning wines from the Hunter Valley’s highly regarded wineries.


Hunter Culinary Association

Established in 2006, the Hunter Culinary Association is a not-for-profit association guided by a group of industry professionals who volunteer their time to support and promote the region and give back to the industry they are so passionate about.

As a region, the Hunter offers a culinary destination offering diverse and abundant dining experiences ranging from quality cafes to two-hatted restaurants, which proudly showcase passionate and talented industry professionals, regionally sourced produce and award winning wines from some of its highly regarded wineries.

The Hunter Culinary Association continues to grow and establish new opportunities for its members, fostering the region’s talent through initiatives including the Brett Graham Scholarship, the First Creek Front of House Scholarship, the Hunter Culinary Association Apprentice Scholarship, the Encouragement Awards, FOH Workshops and produce tours.

It works together with key stakeholders to guide and empower the young talent of the region and assist them in developing their culinary skills through mentoring and guidance.

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