In the twenty-first rendition of the Brett Graham Scholarship, co-sponsored by TAFE NSW and the Hunter Culinary Association, a record 12 apprentice chefs from the region cooked off for a chance to take their cooking career to new heights.
Three young apprentices progressed to the finals and earlier this month, Nicholas Smith from Saddles Mt White, Tyler Swinkles from Emilios Warners Bay, and Lachlan Dowsett from Bistro Molines Hunter Valley, fought it out in the Hamilton TAFE Cookery Restaurant Kitchen.
They had to prepare a 3-course meal for 60 judges, food critics, media guests, dignitaries, sponsors, their employers and families.
Creating a menu of 63-degree egg with grilled asparagus, prawn cannelloni and a white chocolate mousse with green tea jelly, it was Saddles Mount White’s 3rd year apprentice Nicholas Smith who stole the show and was named the 21st Brett Graham Scholar.
Nicholas now stands in fine company with past winners like Troy Rhoades-Brown, Joshua Gregory, Garreth Robbs, Chris Thornton and George Mirosevich to name but a few.
Like the 21 before him, Nicholas cooked his way into the top 3 in the preliminary round and stood head and shoulders above his two remaining competitors to take home a ten-thousand-dollar prize, which will see him take to the pans in London, cooking under the scholarship’s patron, former Novocastrian, Brett Graham who heads up the famed Michelin starred institution – The Ledbury.
TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Commercial Cookery, Mark McManus said each student who competed demonstrated a high standard of technical ability.
“We had the best of the best on show here last night and all the finalists should be proud of how they performed,” he said.
“There is so much work that goes into the preparation behind the scenes – and the experience they have gained here is invaluable. As a Chef, you need to be able to perform under pressure and think clearly in a high stress environment.
“It’s an exciting industry full of potential – as you can travel anywhere and constantly learn and expand your skills. Our teachers have prepared them well and we can’t wait to see what they do next.”
At what really was the night of nights for Newcastle, Central Coast and the Hunter Valley’s young apprentices, another major scholarship was announced, and Brokenwood’s The Wood Restaurant saw it’s young Ashton Stacey named the Scarborough Wines Front of House Scholar for 2023, winning her $5,000 in prize money towards furthering her hospitality career.
Raya Costello from the Hunter Valley’s Jimmy Joans, talent is being nurtured by former Ledbury alumni Eliza and Thom Boyd and with such charisma and commitment to the industry at such a young age, caught the judges eye this year and was named the inaugural Hunter Culinary Association Front of House Rising Star.
Hunter Culinary Association Chair, Gus Maher said the calibre of talent that continues to come out of the Hunter is a testament to the hard work of this next generation and the mentors that have guided them along the way.
“It seems like the future of our industry is in good hands, based on the calibre of talent we saw both in the kitchen last night and in the nominations for our new Scarborough Wines Front of House Scholarship,” he said.
“It was terrific to see in our 21st year of this incredible cookery competition that we received a record number of entries, and most guests thought that the dishes presented were up there with the very best we have seen over the years.
“Well done to all the young talent involved, and best of luck to our winner Nicholas who I’m sure we will be seeing more of.”
IMAGE | TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Commercial Cookery, Mark McManus, Brett Graham Scholarship Winner, Nicholas Smith, and Hunter Culinary Association Chair, Gus Maher (left-right). Image credit: Chris Efles, Elfes Photography.
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.