By Aaron Ryan, Te Rito journalism cadet.
Small towns may have few restaurants - but they are still producing talented chefs-to-be.
The National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge (NZSCC) was held at the Manukau Institute of Technology in Ōtara, and cooks from all over Aotearoa were there to represent their region on a national stage.
Amalia Bradley (Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) and Shannon Lacy (Ngāti Raukawa) from Taumarunui High School were competing in their first NZSCC Challenge.
The two wāhine toa said it was great to win their regional competition and go up against some of the country's top age group cooks.
“I’m really proud. Our school’s quite small and we do really well at sports and not many other things. So it’s cool to get something else up in our school,” Shannon said.
Bradley and Lacy were just two of three Māori among 16 students from different schools around the country.
Wellington Boys High School, Mountainview High School, and St Johns High School were among the other kura there.
Bradley's inspiration came from her family's cooking at the marae.
She pointed out that there was one major difference between the cooking at the marae and at the competition.
“The big difference would be the dishes because there’s only two of us. And at the marae, there are so many there to help.”
Eight pairings from around Aotearoa won the right to compete at this prestigious event. The main ingredient for the entree had to be beetroot.
'High level of professionalism'
The second dish had to use chicken and it was their first time cooking it for the judges.
The 16 rangatahi had just 90 minutes to show off their best 'Gordon Ramsay' skills - without the English chef's famous swearing.
Mark Wylie, the head judge and chief judge of three of Aotearoa's top culinary competitions, was proud of each student.
“We’re always blown away when we see these students come in and to get to this point they’ve practised, consulted with the industry, and pulled the dishes together”
“We were astounded with the level of professionalism used to prepare each dish. Some of the stuff we saw and tasted today was very innovative.”
Kerikeri High School's Kiery Maitch and Savanna Munro took first place in the 2022 competition.
Second and a special prize
But the year 13 students from Taumarunui managed to collect a silver medal, with the second most points for their two dishes.
The Taumarunui pairing said they had gained key knowledge and experiences that will help them in the future.
“It’s taught me to be 100 per cent committed. I have dropped a few subjects over the past three weeks just to focus on this competition and it has been totally worth it,” Lacy said.
“To pursue a goal, full dedication is required,"
The girls also won a knife set as part of a special award.
Bradley says after year 13 she will use her skills to work in her aunt's cafe in Taumarunui, while Lacy has accepted an internship in Queenstown in 2023.