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Alan Stuart and Rhys Barrington on Nestlé Toque d’Or Success

rsz_cpit_winners_l-r_rhys_barrington_bonnie-lee_smith_gavin_larson_2Over the 24 years that top student culinary competition – Nestlé Toque d’Or – has been running, many of the competitors have gone on to achieve great career successes.

Alan Stuart and Rhys Barrington are just two examples of what can be achieved, once the competition and training is over.

Alan Stuart

Alan Stuart competed at Nestlé Toque d’Or in 2009 at the age of 17 and said the experience was one of the proudest moments of his career to date. At the time, he was training at the Culinary Institute of New Zealand which had entered a team into the event for the first time in its history.

He and his fellow team mate in the kitchen won gold medals at the event, while front of house collected silver. The team also picked up the inaugural Innovation Award for their creative use of a Nestlé Professional product.

“Nestlé Toque d’Or is the premier trainee competition in New Zealand and to have had the ability to compete at a young age really did help me so much with my career, Alan said.

“We began training in April – four months in advance of the event – and probably put in nearly 200 hours just getting ready for competition day. We were lucky enough to have such great tutors at the time who were just as passionate and competitive as us about winning. Without the help of Paul Jobin, Noel McRae, Ian Jones and Judy Finegan at the Institute, plus the support of the local community, our first year at Nestlé Toque d’Or as a tertiary institute wouldn’t have been so successful.

“Competing at Nestlé Toque d’Or helps develop you as a chef, in the way that you organise yourself and by pushing you to learn how to work fast and produce high quality food in a high pressure situation. That’s exactly what’s needed for when you step into the workplace, after you’ve completed your tertiary training.”

After the gold medal was hung up, Alan went on to complete his second year at the Culinary Institute of New Zealand and competed in another eight culinary competitions. In 2010, he won New Zealand Commis Chef of the Year. The young chef was then appointed to a job working for high profile chef Josh Emett at Gordon Ramsays’ Maze restaurant in Melbourne.

“After a year working there I decided to move to London to work for Gordon Ramsay at his three Michelin Star restaurant – Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – under the guidance of Claire Smyth and Matt Abe. I spent a year and half working my way up to Chef De Partie before moving back to New Zealand to work at The Sugar Club by Peter Gordon.”

While employed there, an average work day for Alan usually started at 2pm and involved working between different sections in the kitchen.

“My entire focus went into executing a good service during dinner to ensure that our customers had the best dining experience possible.”

Alan recently returned back to the UK to continue his international culinary career. Megan Anderson who was Alan’s team mate in the kitchen at Nestlé Toque d’Or continues to work as a chef and has plans to travel and work overseas. She also went on to represent New Zealand at WorldSkills in 2011.

“Our front of house competitor – Josiah Cochran – works in a café in Whangarei. He has also finished his private pilots training, since completing his hospitality studies. He is incredibly passionate about pastry and makes stunning wedding cakes.”

To this year’s Nestlé Toque d’Or competitors, Alan offers some words of advice.

“Try to be innovative with what you’re cooking and look at today’s food trends. Work tidy and fast because the quicker you can get things done the more time you will have to execute the perfect dish.”

When asked about any funny on-the-job stories, Alan was quick to respond.

“I have a lot of good ones from London – funny when it’s not you but the complete opposite when it is. However, at the end of the day I firmly stand by the saying: What happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.”

Rhys Barrington

Rhys Barrington took to the competition floor in 2010 along with his two team mates from CPIT. They won gold medals for their efforts and walked away with the top accolade of being named the overall winning team.

“After an extremely busy four months of training combined with full-time work and study, it was great to have it all come to such a satisfying end.”

However, the road to medal success wasn’t an easy one for the team.

“Not only were we trying to cook high quality food under pressure while trying to remain calm, the electricity cut out half way through. I remember having to run a tray of half-baked tuilles across to another kitchen and standing there stressing while I watched them cook.

“In the lead up to the event – we were hard at work critiquing every little detail of our dishes, and our overall performance.”

This sometimes included practicing chocolate curling at 4 a.m. in the morning.

“My two chef trainers were awesome and constantly gave us brutally honest feedback. They also flew us up to Auckland a few days before the event and took us out to dinner so that we could really bond as a team. I thought that was a great extra touch.”

On top of developing a large network of new leads and contacts within the industry, they also took a share of the prize money.

“Mine was eventually well spent eating in three Michelin-starred restaurants in New York.”

The day after the competition, Rhys and his team mates went to watch one of their friends compete in a front of house competition.

“While I was there, I was approached by a few high profile New Zealand chefs who offered me positions in their kitchens.”

This ultimately led to Rhys taking on a role at Blanket Bay Lodge where he worked for over a year and a half. Now living in Sydney, Rhys’ career on the other side of the Tasman started with a job working at a two hat restaurant called the Four in Hand.

“This was challenging because their standards are so high and they also specialise in offal. During my time there, I learnt to cook cheaper cuts of meat like snouts, tongues and tails to the exacting standards of such a highly respected restaurant.”

Rhys then went on to become more involved in private cooking.

“With its huge population, Sydney has thousands of households in the market for a private chef. This involves planning individual menus for each client and working to extremely strict and often just plain strange dietary requirements. Sometimes the logistics of these events can be more stressful than the actual cooking.

“I also have a group of body builders and models that I cook for. They have extremely strict diets so I prepare bulk batches of food and deliver it to them.”

Rhys’ tips for this year’s competitors are to keep cool under pressure, have a laugh and listen to their trainers.

“The trainers will undoubtedly be tough on their teams, in order to push them to achieve their very best. They have often competed themselves and know what it takes to win. It’s also a rare opportunity to have high quality one-to-one tutoring which students can use to their full advantage during the early stages of their careers.”

During his career to date, Rhys said one of his more memorable services was where he and his colleagues were instructed to only talk, so long as they spoke like a Spartan from the movie 300.

“Front of house soon put a stop to all the fun, after guests said they could hear us,” he said.

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