Sam Heaven is thrilled to have won the title of Beef + Lamb Young Ambassador Chef after a cook-off against two other finalists.
Sam grew up in Hawke's Bay where his family owned Heaven's Bakery, which was started by his grandfather and then his father, also being a baker, took over.
"That's where my food journey started," Sam said.
"My grandfather taught me to make bread and my father taught me how to make cakes and pastries. I specialise in chocolate work — a bit of artwork goes into that."
He says he "kind of fell into chefing".
"Someone suggested I should try it and I thought why not? I was a pastry chef at St George's Restaurant in Hawke's Bay and I realised then I wanted to be a more rounded chef so moved to Auckland and did an apprenticeship."
He is now a fully qualified chef and is loving working in the Park Hyatt in Auckland.
"It's a beautiful hotel. I work in the events and private dining area. I'm loving learning so much about fine dining which I'm passionate about."
He describes himself as being very ambitious and passionate but likes to take a minimalist approach to his food while incorporating as much flavour and techniques as possible.
"I am so excited to get this opportunity to represent Beef + Lamb New Zealand and to be mentored by some great chefs - I am looking forward to making the most out of it and learning as much as possible," he said.
"It's an awesome opportunity working alongside the senior Beef + Lamb ambassadors. I will be visiting a farm and will see what the process is from paddock to plate. That was one of the reasons I wanted to enter.
"It's going to be amazing to look back in years to come and know that I was the first Young Ambassador Chef."
The three finalists were chosen earlier in the year after young chefs were invited to submit their best beef and lamb dishes to be in with a chance to be a finalist and cook for Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chefs Tejas Nikam, Phil Clark, Norka Mella Munoz and Jack Crosti, who were the judges on the day.
Sam said he saw the competition as a great opportunity to continue to grow his career, especially during the difficulties of working through a pandemic. He also saw it as an opportunity to achieve a better understanding of the farm-to-table journey of beef and lamb and what he can do as a chef to promote that more in the kitchen.
He would also love to work with the Beef + Lamb Ambassador chefs to learn more about how he can improve himself as a chef when it comes to cooking with beef and lamb.
"I know a lot of young chefs who are keen to travel overseas and that's just not possible at the moment. I saw the competition as a chance for us young chefs to do something refreshing and to keep striving and growing our careers. To have a chance to take on a role as the first Young Ambassador Chef was an opportunity not to be missed."
Head judge Norka Mella Munoz, who is the head chef at Mangapapa Hotel in Havelock North, says Sam had the whole package and was well focused on the job of delivering extremely tasty and well executed dishes to the judges' table.
"All the elements of his dish connected and the ingredients and flavour combinations were exceptional," she said
Norka says all three young chefs did extremely well on the day, as it's not easy cooking under pressure.
Sam says while Hawke's Bay will always be "home to me", he plans to learn as much as he can outside the region.
"My goal is to go overseas to places such as Copenhagen and Norway to learn more from a Nordic kitchen but for now I am looking forward to the year ahead as Beef + Lamb Young Ambassador Chef."