top tips from past chefs

not sure what to expect or where to start? why not read some advice from our past young chefs…

Start by reading the application carefully and thinking about your answers. It’s important that the judges can easily see that your application is well-rounded and well-thought through as they are looking at your answers as well as your menu & recipe. Ensuring that your food philosophy and innovative thinking really shine through – your application will stand a much greater chance of standing out amongst the others.

The recipes need to work on paper. Take the time to devise your menu and recipes as they should inspire the judges to want to see and taste them in person and ultimately find out more about you. The judges are looking for simplicity and attention to detail; a clear, well thought-out recipe with a clear, bright image helps them to be able to picture your dish at each stage of the process and on the plate – make sure they are not blurry. Don’t underestimate that the menu and recipes you provide at this stage are really important – the more thought given to each, the better your chances! The judges cannot reiterate enough that this is an opportunity to show skills and creativity through your own food. Remember, creativity is not necessarily about complexity.

Read the application form
It sounds obvious, but reading the application form from start to finish will ensure you understand all the requirements. “Make sure you read it a couple of times,” recommends Hajime Horiguchi, Minamishima. This gives you the time to think about everything you want to say about your philosophy on food & cooking as well as your recipes.

Ask for advice
Find a mentor, run it past your mum, dad, talk to your head chef or find one of our past finalists to talk to. Understand that there are people to support you if you have any questions. “Take your time and get as many people as you can to proof read it. Every opinion matters” says George Tomlin, The Town Mouse 

Use spell check
Spelling errors and bad grammar look sloppy, so make sure you check your application form thoroughly. Get someone else to read it, too. Chances are, if they don’t know what you’re talking about, neither will our judges. “Keep it short and to the point,” suggests Peter Kelly, Urbane Restaurant.

Be consistent
Your application form should reflect what you truly believe. “Anything you put down will be referenced when you speak to the judges and when you cook, so your food philosophy must be consistent with what you do,” says Jake Davey, est Restaurant.  Plus, “you’ll probably be really nervous in the interviews and your application will almost be as important in portraying who you are as a person” says Hanz Gueco, Pei Modern Sydney

Think seasonally
You’ll need to create a seasonal menu as part of your application, so make sure you know what’s in season rather than guessing or what you think might be seasonal. “Use produce that is in its peak during autumn as you’ll get the best flavour from that ingredient. Don’t try to come up with it in an hour,” says Jake Kellie, Estelle Bistro

keep it simple
When creating your seasonal menu, remember that you may need to produce it under pressure. “Keep it simple, but still demonstrate knowledge of flavour combinations, ingredients and technique,” says Soren Lascelles, Grand Hyatt Singapore “It should be simple enough that you are in control if you do make the cook-off.” and “Keep your dishes focused but simple. Allow yourself the opportunity to engage with the judges” recommends Matt Binney, Merricote

Practice your dish
You need to make sure that the flavours and your dish work as ninety minutes goes really quickly in a different kitchen. Remember, the judges are chefs too, so you want to make sure it works, “Make sure what you come up with is achievable within the allotted time, get as many people to try it as possible,” says  Jake Davey, est Restaurant and “Make sure you get somebody to taste your dish” when practicing recommends Noburo Maruyama, Bar H Dining

Have a plan
Preparation is key when it comes to the cook-off, so go in with a clear idea of what you need to do. “Trial your dish in the allocated time frame to make sure you are well prepared. It’s good to have a work flow in front of you while working,” says Jake Kellie, Estelle Bistro “Have an idea of how your plate should look, as the judges will be watching you.” Says Victor Liong, Lee Ho Fook

Be confident
Even if you don’t feel it, don’t second guess yourself, but be adaptable. Victor Liong, Lee Ho Fook says, “if it doesn’t go your way, your Plan B is your Plan A.” More importantly, remember what you do know, techniques, ingredients and how to work in a kitchen. Focus on what you know, be yourself and speak from your heart

Don’t give up
Just doing the application can help you think about where you want to be and how to get there, “everybody should give it a go cause you’ll learn so much about yourself”, says Hanz Gueco, Pei ModernDidn’t make the finals last year? Try again this year. A number of our finalists and winners were successful on their second, or even third, attempt.  “Have a go – there is nothing to lose,” says Francis Fawkner, Muse Restaurant.

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