Top industry figure Darren Wright will be the head judge at the 2018 Nestlé Toque d’Or competition.
From humble beginnings as a kitchen hand to his current role as chef/owner of Chillingworth Road in Christchurch, the highly acclaimed chef has garnered numerous awards and accolades along the way. Included in his trove are 1999 SPHC Chef of the Nation, top spot in the 2006 Global Chef’s challenge and team member of the NZChefs Olympic Squad. In 2014, he was granted platinum status by Beef + Lamb NZ – an honour that has been afforded to only five other chefs.
Wright has traversed the Nestlé Toque d’Or competition floor for many years now, offering his knowledge and expertise to a new group of emerging chefs, as they compete for top honours.
“It’s hugely important to them because the event serves as a catalyst for new opportunities and a springboard for careers in the industry,” Wright said. “Being head judge is, therefore, always a great privilege. It’s also fascinating to see the progression students make each year and the way in which the bar gets raised higher and higher every time.”
Now into its 28th year, Nestlé Toque d’Or provides a platform for top students from training institutes to hone their skills and present what they can do on a grand stage. The live kitchen cook-off piles on the pressure and rewards the best who can deliver excellence on the day. There are also job offers to be made, as hospitality stalwarts prowl the event in search of the next big name.
“It’s all about bringing their A-game and keeping mistakes to an absolute minimum, so as to avoid a costly deduction in points by the judges.”
According to Wright one of the most exciting aspects of the yearly competition is the way in which competitors show case new trends.
“It will be interesting to see how the current trend towards the creative use of vegetables will be tackled by this year’s competitors. Increasingly, vegetables and inventive ways of using them can make or break a dish these days.”
With the ever-changing focus on food influenced by local and international trends, vegetables have risen in recent years from the humble and, at times, somewhat reluctant side dish to take a starring role on many menus.
Once thought of as merely a necessary component of a meal in line with the ‘eat your greens’ mentality, vegetables have risen in importance.
“These days we have cauliflower steaks, pasta made from shredded vegetables, smoked tomato and even the emergence of vegetable butchers. Getting the most of every part of a vegetable is also an exciting challenge in these waste and cost conscious times. Internationally, all the indicators are pointing towards the importance of vegetables, as top industry commentators and influencers are zeroing in on it as a key trend.”
At Chillingworth Road, Wright is embracing the vegetables mantra by working directly with vegetable growers.
“Our focus is very much on locally sourced fresh produce and carefully planning the produce into our regularly changing menus. We also look to use vegetables in multiple ways, always being mindful of taste, texture, palate and visual appearance.”
With culinary great Anton Mosimann of the UK also confirmed on this year’s judging roster, Wrights says it will be interesting to hear his observations on the subject.
Nestlé Toque d’Or will be held on Monday 13 August at the Auckland Showgrounds. An awards dinner will be held later in the evening where the winning team will be crowned.