Chef From Bottom of the Country Achieves Top Spot

Aspiring Invercargill chef Stefenpon Sitinjak has taken out top place at the Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge 2020.

Sitinjak, a demi chef at Invercargill’s Ascott Park Hotel, competed alongside five other finalists to take the top prize at the final event held in Auckland.

Winning a $3,000 cash prize and a year-long ambassadorial role, Sitinjak will now go on to represent New Zealand at the Lee Kum Kee International Young Chinese Culinary Chefs Competition in Hong Kong next September.

Just the second time it’s been held in New Zealand, the qualifying competition was open to all chefs under the age of 40 either working or training in New Zealand.

Sponsored by Gilmours and Trents, aspiring chefs were required to enter a Chinese or Chinese-inspired dish by email and video, using a minimum of three Lee Kum Kee sauces or condiments and a main ingredient of beef, lamb, pork, chicken, salmon or vegetables.

Battling it out in front of a live audience at the Auckland Seafood School, contestants had 90 minutes to make and present their dish to judges Paulie Hooton, head chef at the Auckland Seafood School and former head chef at Oyster Inn on Waiheke Island; Mark Dronjak, a seasoned chef with over 40 years in the kitchen and a wealth of published work across radio, newspapers and magazines; and Acton International Marketing senior brand manager Joanne Hall.

“It’s challenging walking into a strange kitchen and being expected to perform at your best,” noted Dronjak. “While all the contestants did a great job, Sitinjak put up an excellent dish with lovely flavours and use of ingredients.”

With both Chinese- and Malaysian-influences, Hooton described the winning dish as being “beautifully flavoured - every mouthful right down to the wonderfully fragrant coconut-infused rice. I would have happily eaten a whole plate.”

“Sitinjak showed a real understanding of the ingredients, he used almost all the Lee Kum Kee ingredients on offer, and he worked in a very methodical, calm and clean manner. A humble guy with a big future we think.”

Launched in 2014 by Lee Kum Kee with the aim of nurturing Chinese culinary talent and providing a platform for Chinese culinary exchange, the LKKIYCCCC is held every two years.

The first New Zealand challenge in 2018 saw local winner Xiayi Luo from Elim Hospitality travel to Hong Kong to compete against representatives from over 20 countries and regions including China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Netherlands, United States, Canada, Columbia, France, Czech Republic and Australia, the winner taking home a cash prize of HK $130,000.

“We may be a relatively small player on the global stage, but New Zealand has a strong tradition in Chinese cooking and there is real innovation happening across Asian cuisines here, whether it be Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, Japanese or Asian fusion,” commented Alisdair Methven, National Key Account Manager for Acton NZ - Lee Kum Kee’s sole distributor in New Zealand.

“There is really scope for a Kiwi to be a contender at the final. The opportunity to compete against the best-of-the-best globally also provides the winner with a real opportunity for inspiration and exchange of ideas and the opportunity to really elevate their Chinese culinary artistry. We hope Stefenpon enjoys the opportunity and are excited to see how he does.”

With a while to wait until the global final in Hong Kong next September, Stefenpon will spend the next year acting as ambassador for Lee Kum Kee which Methven says will include representing the brand at trade shows.

All finalists walked away with more than $200 of Lee Kum Kee products.

“As suppliers to thousands of restaurants and hospitality venues across the country, we are delighted to help support both the growth of developing chefs like Stefenpon and Asian cuisine here in New Zealand,” said Gilmours Marketing Lead Nadia Lopes said both Gilmours and Trents congratulate Stefenpon.

Renowned for inventing oyster sauce over 130 years ago, today Lee Kum Kee is one of the world’s most recognisable makers of authentic Chinese sauces and condiments and has been popular in both commercial and home kitchens across New Zealand since the 1970s.

The 2020 Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge has been proudly supported by Gilmours and Trents.

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