Months of hard work and late nights paid off for St Johns College students whose culinary skills saw them retain their title at the National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge for the third year in a row.

Not only did the 14 students win the challenge's regional competition held at EIT over the weekend, they also won 24 medals - including nine gold, seven silver, and seven first in their class. The school's culinary arts head of department, Craig Ireland, said he was blown away with the students' success.

"You put all this extra time in and hope it pays off and it certainly did this year," he said.

The students were part of the school's new culinary institute, with three students from each year cooking together on Friday afternoon. As the competition got closer, students spent five hours cooking everyday.


During the competition students proved their culinary prowess in classes from innovative pizza, lamb entree, to the cheesecake class, but the team event class was "the one you really want to win", Mr Ireland said.

Year 13 students Samuel Heaven and Daniel Moss won with their entree, silverbeet sausage with truffle meringue with silverbeet and nutmeg mousse encased in a mozzarella balloon, and main of chicken roulade with beetroot and lavender gel, fondant potatoes and baby vegetables.

Daniel also won a bronze with first in class, and Samuel won six first in class awards and was the overall secondary school champion.

Samuel said there had been a lot of late nights in the lead-up to the competition, when he would be awake until 2am coming up with ideas.

"We knew the standard was going to be high so we had to really up our game." His parents own the Hawke's Bay chain, Heaven's Bakery.

The most challenging part, Daniel said, had been researching and trying new ideas out to see what would look amazing on the plate.

The final dishes were an "evolution" of about 50 different recipes, with the pair taking elements they liked from each dish to the next.

While there were always things that could go wrong in a live competition, both boys said they were happy with the final dishes.

They will go up against winning teams from other regional finals in the grand final in Auckland on August 30.