Chef Aaron Ballantyne started working in kitchens at the age of 15, washing dishes after school, which lead him to fall in love with the kitchen lifestyle and food and to pursue cooking as a career. After completing his training in Wellington, he spent time working in Japan and Australia before returning home to work in luxury lodges in Queenstown. He has been at Hopgood’s in Nelson for the past 10 years, now as head chef and partner. His dish for the awards included a Silver Fern Farms lamb double cutlet and slow cooked shoulder with artichokes, asparagus, salted grapes and capers. The dish, according to the judging panel was thoughtfully conceived and we particularly enjoyed the contrast provided by the two lamb cuts which gave the diner an appreciation of the versatility of lamb, one cooked medium rare with subtle lamb aromas, one roasted with the wonderful lamb flavour. Both the artichoke and asparagus brought well-judged balance but the salted grapes were the surprise dimension and added an element of fascination.