They can't book quarantine beds and they need to raise $50,000 fast, but that's not the biggest problem facing the first New Zealanders competing at a prestigious world chef championship.
"We have to use tomatoes," says John Kelleher, Bocuse d'Or New Zealand president. "And it's not tomato season here!"
Bocuse d'Or, held every second year in Lyon, France, has been dubbed the Formula One of the food world. Kelleher says it's the culinary equivalent to the Rugby World Cup. Just 24 countries are selected for the final and the first-ever Kiwi presence - courtesy of a wildcard entry - is a big deal.
"We can't afford to go, but we can't afford not to go because of the experience and the exposure ... we'll be showcasing our culinary arts, our produce, our chefs, our country, our tourism. It has big flow-on effects."
The competition team comprises senior chef Andrew Ballard (Hamilton-born and Melbourne-based) and Quillan Gutberlet who grew up in Kumara, on the South Island's West Coast. Both chefs have previously competed at regional Asia-Pacific Bocuse d'Or competitions. Meanwhile, Kelleher will take on an extra role in France, as one of the two-day tasting judges for the world finals.
Bocuse d'Or, in which teams of two prepare dishes live in front of an audience, began in 1987 and is named for legendary French chef Paul Bocuse. This year, competitors are tasked with cooking and presenting a blade cut of Charolais beef with two vegetable accompaniments and a ragout. They must also prepare a three-course take-out meal featuring cherry tomatoes in every dish, that can be packed into plant-based containers the teams must also create.
Kelleher says the latter - featuring a unique Aotearoa design - is likely to be 3D printed from corn starch. Meanwhile, he's not too concerned about the chefs' abilities to turn tomatoes into pudding.
"It seems odd, but when you break it down, there are similar applications to strawberries for example, and some stonefruit methods we could apply. And tomatoes are sweet, they're not always acidic."
Kelleher, Culinary Arts programme leader at AUT University, says "to the best we can" local ingredients will feature in the recipes being developed.
"We can't take a leg of lamb over there, or a piece of fish, so we're restricted to dry ingredients. We need to show off our identity, and that's going to come through in some of the flavours . . . certainly kawakawa and horopito and perhaps New Zealand-grown quinoa."
He says competition is tough.
"It took the USA 30 years to win. Australia have been doing it since 1987 and the best they've got is eighth ... of course we want to do our best."
The team is anxiously waiting confirmation of managed isolation quarantine beds for its return.
"I just sent off an email to France to see if they could assist us with accommodation if we get stuck," says Kelleher. "Our travel agent says he's got it on his fingertips to press 'reserve' but there's no certainty ... it's not reassuring and it's hard to plan."
The competition takes place on September 26-27 but the New Zealand squad will leave on September 9, to allow time to practice with the competition's compulsory French elements, including Charolais beef. Kelleher says he's found some farms here, but many of the animals are cross-bred.
And, while some European teams have competing budgets of $1 million, the New Zealanders "will be comfortable" with $50,000, says Kelleher.
A major fundraising dinner, at Auckland's AUT University, is planned for August 7.
Tomorrow, team members will partner with AUT students and Pacific Food Lab-Aotearoa to plan and prepare 350 meals for food charity Everybody Eats. Documentation of that work will support a bid to win this year's Bocuse d'Or Social Commitment Award which carries a $13,000 prize.