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Students turn up the heat at this year’s 18th Annual Waikato Culinary Fare

More than 450 students from around the motu competed in this year’s 18th Annual Waikato Culinary Fare at the Wintec Rotokauri Campus Hospitality kitchens. With the heat turning up for one student who was left to compete by herself in a team competition at the last minute.

The fare sees intermediate, and high school students represented from as far away as Taumarunui, Whakatane and Massey High in Auckland. Although it is predominately high school based, there are tertiary categories as well with the hopes that these will grow in the future as Te Pūkenga brings more institutes into the hospitality and culinary fold.

The Waikato Culinary Fare is a Wintec event, in partnership with Cater Plus, that features static and live food events. Students compete for the highest scores which see their entries achieve gold, silver or bronze awards. It took place over two days this year, on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 June.

Josh Kanara-Bailey (pictured), chef and Wintec senior academic staff member for Hospitality said it was great to have numbers rise from just under 300 students last year to almost 500 this year.

“Covid has stumped us for a few years, but it’s started to feel like we are back up and running again this year. Although, I think we would have got more students if it hadn’t been for the teacher strikes, we have had some schools pull out because of those, so next year I’m hoping we will be back into full swing and uninterrupted. In saying that, it’s awesome to see our numbers coming back up.”

Josh said the competitor levels were high this year with almost all the kitchens full up.

“Its amazing seeing the school teachers bringing students through and facilitating their growth. It’s a journey to get to this point and such a great learning experience for the students. I love seeing them come through and learning while they are creating.”

In the live kitchen events, students only find out the ingredients an hour before they enter the kitchen and must create something from that. One of the highlights of the live events is the mystery box challenge. Students who enter this category are given a briefing of both what is in their mystery box, and what they’re expected to create from it, one hour before they are allowed to start cooking, with the cook time being two and a half hours.

The live events are a bit like Masterchef and quite intense, so if that's not the experience they are after, they can enter the static competitions, that gives them the chance to showcase a dish they’ve been able to work on, and hopefully perfect, beforehand. 

Josh said the fare was a great environment for high school students to get a taste of the industry.

Lara Cole (pictured), 18, is in her first year of Wintec | Te Pūkenga Professional Culinary Arts Level 4 certificate and she had signed up for the team event mystery box challenge. Unfortunately, her teammate pulled out at the last minute, but this didn’t stop the budding young chef from competing.

“During the planning hour, I was allowed the time to plan out what dishes I would make and serve - four portions of a main course dish, and four portions of a dessert dish. I had chosen to make a chicken fettuccine main, and a cheesecake filling puff pastry along with a poached pear for dessert. After the briefing period I had two and a half hours to cook, make, and plate my dishes.”

Prior to joining the Culinary Arts Level 4 program, Lara had previously completed Levels 2 and 3 of the Waikato Trades Academy Cookery programs at Wintec during high school, while she was completing NCEA Levels 2 and 3.

“For me, doing the next level in culinary arts, was another chapter in my culinary story. My family has always been my greatest inspiration and influence to aspire to in the culinary world as I’m from a family line of chefs, cooks and bakers.

“The mystery box event is something I have been wanting to do for so long. I love and thrive in the high stakes and fast pace of the kitchen environment. I personally had no fears about going into the challenge and was excited to see what I could make out of the event. Yes, I did have a teammate pull out, but my tutor had enough faith in me and my skills that I was given the opportunity to compete individually in an event designed for two people. 

“I loved competing alone, all my ideas were uniquely mine, the food and the plating came from me alone. I'm so proud of myself for doing it.” 

Even though Lara went it alone, she placed silver.

“Competing in the Culinary Fare is an excellent way to learn and gain exposure to what working in industry could entail. It's a fun and welcoming environment for anyone to come and see, and support their peers, and gain judgment, and helpful criticism going forward.

“I absolutely encourage anyone who is thinking or is wanting to study at Wintec, to do so. Wintec is an amazing way to learn in such a hands-on and inclusive space, where you are encouraged to learn and adapt to your greatest potential as a learner,” Lara said.

Former Wintec student Lylie Mallek was a judge again this year for the fifth year in a row. She now runs a catering business and a coffee bar.

“It’s great to see the different students coming through every year. It’s always different, even if you’re judging the same category. The student’s imaginations always change things up and it gives you an idea of the new trends coming through and what’s coming next in the culinary world. It’s not an easy industry, but you can see these future chefs are passionate.”
Michelle Knott, Teacher in Charge of Food Technology at the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls has been a judge in the past but was excited to be chaperone for a big group of students who had entered this year.

“We have about 30 students from Waikato Diocesan School entered this year. It’s been a lot of planning. We have a lot of our students competing in the mystery box and we have a competitor in every event this year.

“I think most schools are really busy with all of the extracurricular activities that they can participate in, so for us as a school we are just coming off the back of house singing, so mixing it in has been a challenge. But the girls have been really great with their time and giving a lot of energy and they are just so focused and determined to be a part of it.

“The value of this for us as a school is huge. It builds the girls confidence, the teamwork and networking that they have together, has a big impact on them and helps them grow and develop as individuals. It teaches resilience too, it’s a special competition. We love that Wintec offers this opportunity for our students and for the future of the hospitality industry,” she said.

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