For the fourth year running, Waikato’s Matariki Dish Challenge will test local chefs on their skills and knowledge as they compete for a prize pool.

Last year’s challenge saw 25 eateries battle it out with dishes that tantalised taste buds, and broadened diners’ knowledge of Matariki and local produce.

Some of last year’s most iconic dishes included steamed tuatua, kawakawa and fennel broth with pickled pikopiko, paua and kina brulee with sea-grap and horopito salad, pickled bush mushrooms, crayfish oil and ratatouille vegetables with chilli koura, fennel with mussels and paua wrapped in seaweed.

The competition will run from June 9 to July 14. Eateries from around the Waikato will give their all to create a dish that pays homage to Matariki and celebrates local ingredients.

Entrants dishes are mystery judged and if they make the cut are revisited by the head judge to determine the overall winners in both the café and restaurant categories.

On May 21st a hui at Wintec School of Hospitality had chefs hear from local kaumatua on the significant and history of Matariki, the story translated and told by chef tutor Shannon Katipa who taught the importance of respecting the food and ingredients. Katipa is a two-time runner-up for New Zealand chef of the year, and supreme award winner at the Wintec Staff Awards.

The competition is not only judged by the dishes presented, but also on service, staff knowledge and promotion of the challenge.

“One of the goals of the challenge is to help local food businesses grow, and so the challenge is designed to upskill and test the whole team, not just the kitchen,” said event organiser Vicki Ravlich-Horan.

Matariki is the Maori celebration for a new year, following the rise of Pleiades constellation in the skies above New Zealand. It is an important event on the Maori lunar calendar and is traditionally a time for people to look back and give thanks for the land, forest and sea for the harvests that have sustained the people throughout the year. This year’s Matariki sets on June 7th and rises on July 6-9, where stargazers will be able to see Matariki above the horizon as the sun comes up.

With plenty of bright stars and many more rising in the Waikato hospitality scene, this year’s challenge is slated to be the biggest and best challenge yet.

Winners will be announced at the Gala Prizegiving Event at the University of Waikato on Sunday, July 29.