What happened when this Wintec chef sent a mystery box to his class

Wintec chef Joshua Kanara-Bailey is bringing whānau together with his innovative teaching during lockdown

Wintec chef Joshua Kanara-Bailey is bringing whānau together with his innovative teaching during lockdown.


When Wintec chef, Josh Kanara-Bailey decided to challenge his students with a lockdown learning activity, he created a Mystery Box challenge that launched a series of simultaneous dinner parties that brought whānau together and uplifted Waikato households.

Nine tauira/students in their first year of study turned their homes into pop-up restaurants, put on their chef whites and gathered the whānau/family or flatmates around the table for a two-course dinner.

Their mission? To use as many ingredients as possible and show a range of techniques.

There was no escaping the eyes of chef tutor Kanara-Bailey. Dinner had to be served at 6.30pm, and photos taken before Kanara-Bailey Zoomed into their dining rooms to check in before dessert at 7.45pm.

Away from alert level restrictions, on ‘Hospitality Tuesday’ these tauira would normally have been cooking a la carte for guests at Windows, Wintec’s training restaurant.

“Cooking is about making food to share with others, whether it is for one other, ten or a hundred people, so it was quite a privilege to join in on the celebrations and meet all the whānau and friends,” says Kanara-Bailey.

“I’m very happy with how this went. While it was a task for their learning, it changed up their routine during lockdown and brought people together. There were positive vibes all round and lots of smiles. They all did an amazing job.”

Dressed for the occasion in a shirt and tie, Chef Josh joined nine lockdown dinner parties online to get the lowdown from the guests.

Everyone took part, dressed up and some went beyond to turn ‘Hospitality Tuesday’ during lockdown into a night to remember.

The results revealed the contents of the mystery box. The main, a chicken, was stuffed, spiced, roasted or curried and the carrots in the box were turned, glazed or pureed. Desserts, leaned to the classics like crème brûlée, white chocolate mud cake, berry cheesecake and many variations on white chocolate mousse. 

Chicken was a main course ingredient in the mystery box challenge.

Chicken was a main course ingredient in the mystery box challenge.

When Kanara-Bailey Zoomed into the McLennan house, Sean had made cranberry brie and chilli stuffed chicken in a carrot puree with micro greens and a boysenberry crème brûlée to follow and matched it with wine. His mum was “really happy someone else cooked” and his dad agreed, saying dinner was so good, he would “gladly pay for it”.

Their only gripe is that their son is not quite quick enough to refill their wine glasses, but it’s happy family banter. “You’ve trained him really well,” they tell Kanara-Bailey.

Not everyone has a dining table, but Jackson Chilcott and his flatmates really know how to improvise. They are eating off a very elegantly decorated beer pong table. They have enjoyed two mains including a chipotle chicken breast on a garlic mash with glazed, turned carrots.

“Did the turned carrots look the same size, girls?” queries Josh with a grin.

 The flatmates are more concerned with their lavish dessert choices, a crème brûlée and a white chocolate and berry mousse.

Briarley Davies and her mum, dad and sister had just polished off a herbed chicken breast with crispy skin, carrot puree, roasted potato cubes, charred asparagus in a brown butter sauce and dessert, a dark chocolate truffle cake with boysenberry coulis, chocolate soil and boysenberry ice cream. Dinner is complete with a beautifully designed menu on a perfectly set table.

 “I’m not surprised!” exclaims Kanara-Bailey at the level of detail.  

Over at Elise Butler’s house there’s a Halloween theme, complete with masks and ghoulish decorations. After a quinoa salad with roast vegetables chickpea and a herb butter roasted chicken, her mum was keen to cut into the lavish but spooky white chocolate boysenberry cake.

Wintec Hospitality Team Manager, Sarah Turpitt thought she’d give it a go too. Sarah, a well-known chef hasn’t quite hung up her apron and proved that you can never take the chef out of the kitchen.

Turpitt made four dishes for her family: Spiced chicken liver parfait with sesame lavosh, minted lemon sorbet, harissa and preserved lemon chicken breast with braised kibbled wheat and kale, date roasted carrots and minted yoghurt followed by white chocolate mousse and blackberry ice cream on a spiced chocolate tuille with orange and blackberry jellies… no pressure everyone.

Jorja Richardson’s extended family hold up a score card. She got 11/10 for her garlic and black pepper chicken and pickled vegetable dish, and they are looking forward to a decadent white chocolate dessert.

Desserts were a highlight and featured  chocolate and berries including this white chocolate and berry mudcake with white chocolate ganache.

Desserts were a highlight and featured  chocolate and berries including this white chocolate and berry mudcake with white chocolate ganache.

Over at Tara van der Merwe’s house, there is no sign of lockdown fatigue, just laughter. Her roast chicken lemon and herb pesto, roast vegetable, bulghur wheat salad gets a surprise addition of Yorkshire puddings with homemade gravy (a family favourite) that raises Chef Josh’s eyebrows.

But it was the orange gin and tonic jelly and a white choc berry mud cake with white ganache that resonated most with her mum.

“Mum really liked the gin jelly,” she laughs. “We want to do this every week!”

At Manahi Waetford’s house the extended family started with oysters in the shell (not from the mystery box) before tucking into cashew nut chicken curry with rolls he has made, and a white chocolate mousse with raspberries and orange. All the whānau are at the table and Manahi says “there are empty plates, so that’s a good sign”.

And at Koushal’s house, there is Kosher butter chicken with rice and raita and berry jelly with custard. “He did a really nice job,” said one of his guests.

In Level 3, Wintec Hospitality tauira were able to return to campus to cook in small managed bubbles. The challenge, says Turpitt is managing them as there were not enough chef tutors to ensure every bubble had a tutor. So she went out an recruited five chefs.

“We have Hospo dynamic duo brothers Fraser (BiteLab/Montana) and David Kerr, (Kerr and Ladbrook), Nicola Vandershantz from Hamilton Gardens Cafe, Andrew Pietersz from The Keg Room, Tim Batters who operates the Readout Café at Rotokauri Campus and of course the wonderful Kristian Nooyen from Vilagrad Winery a long-time supporter.

“It’s heart-warming that so many of our alumni and colleagues have leapt at the chance to support our students during this challenging time. Without their kind offers of assistance we would not be confident in getting our students completing their course of study this semester.”

Meanwhile, Chef Josh has sent another mystery box to his cohort. This time it’s food for a lockdown cocktail party. They have a list of ingredients including prawns, rice, a baguette, chickpeas, smoked kahawai, eggs, dumpling wrappers, mini croissants and some shredded parmesan to get creative with. What would you make?

Find out more about studying hospitality at Wintec.

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