Ever wondered what led the chef who cooked your meal to find his or her vocation? Top cooks shared the "food memories" that have shaped their careers at the Ora King Salmon Awards at Woollaston Mahana Vineyards in Upper Moutere, Nelson, recently.
Harbourside executive sous-chef Thomas Barta.
My lasting memory is from Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's Michelin-starred restaurant where I worked in London in 2009 and 2010.
When I was a young chef, I worked in Italy for a couple of months in a very nice restaurant. To celebrate the end of my apprenticeship, my head chef took me to dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Postale in Umbria. I was blown away by the flavours, the presentation and the restaurant's pure perfection.
Coming from Eastern Europe, I didn't have a clue about fine dining or a Michelin star. But at that moment I decided one day I would work in a Michelin-starred restaurant and create exceptional food, and I would do anything for that. Five years later, I found myself at Gordon Ramsay's kitchen at Claridge's.
It was the worst and best period of my life. It was like being in an army with 17 to18-hour shifts without a break.
I lost 7kg in the first couple of months. It was so hard and if you make one mistake you are out. I was dog-tired every day. But I loved it; this was my dream and I made it, working in the busiest Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK.
That experience made me the chef I am today; it gave me the strength, knowledge, strong leadership, the sense of flavours and many things I can't even describe.
Never give up your dreams; if you want something you need to work hard for it and make it happen. Everything is possible.
This memory is recalled from the middle of a busy Saturday night service where 20 chefs are working hard from seven in the morning until one o'clock the next morning, ensuring every single one of the 180 covers gets an unforgettable Michelin-star food experience - from the amuse bouche to the petits fours.
This is the sweetest food memory of my life.
The beloved Edmonds Cookery Book, as employed by Darren Johnson's skilled grandmother, is one of his earliest cooking memories.
Executive chef, Masu, Auckland.
My earliest food memory is of my grandmother and the amazing skill she
had of filling the cupboards every Tuesday with a huge array of baked goods, a popular day for all the grandkids to be visiting.
She would work in the kitchen for the entire day, whipping up all sorts of cakes, biscuits and slices and we would be under her feet hoping to have the odd spoon to lick and fresh warm biscuits to steal when we thought she wasn't looking.
Grandma got her skill as a cook working at the infamous Captain Cook Tavern in Dunedin back in the late 1940s and 50s, and catering for a large family - I guess that passion for food runs in the family.
Her recipe book of choice at the time was the Edmonds Cookery Book and indeed it's my first cook book, which I still have to this day. My favourite recipe at age 7 was for pavlova.
Daniel Wilson, of Huxtable restaurant and Huxtaburger, with his food memory - his grandfather's antler-handled carving set.
Chef and owner, Huxtable Restaurant and Huxtaburger, Melbourne
Growing up in the East Auckland suburb of Pakuranga, I always looked forward to occasions where there was delicious food.
We would often have a Sunday roast at my grandparents' place. My grandfather would carve the meat using a beautiful antler-handled carving set.
I remember him showing me how to use the steel to hone the blade. When he began carving, my sister and I would stand next to him and squeak like mice and he would give us little teasers before the meal.
When my grandfather died, my grandmother gave it to me. I'll pass it on to one of my daughters when the time is right.
Simon Green, from Halo at Trinity Wharf in Tauranga, with his food memory - a silver spoon and commemorative plate from the 2001 chefs' conference dinner at the Dorchester Hotel, London
Executive chef, Halo at Trinity Wharf Hotel, Tauranga.
My sweetest memory is of a silver spoon and commemorative plate from the chefs' conference dinner in 2001 at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London.
I was doing a stagiaire in the Grill Room kitchens at the time. It was a big affair, not only because all the guests were the who's who of UK chefs, but also because of a few ring-ins.
In part of the banqueting larder kitchen was Charlie Trotter with a few of his brigade from his famous Chicago restaurant. Taking over the pastry kitchen was Gordon Ramsay and his boys from Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Rd.
The kitchens were abuzz and, on the day, the entire Dorchester banqueting brigade was on hand. Add in the "new" chef's boys and this made for a lot of cooks bustling for position.
The spoon? Well one of the visiting chefs said to me, "Quick, I need a spoon." But I didn't have one. Whack, one appeared as if out of nowhere and rapped down on my knuckles, to the words: "Chef, carry a spoon in your pocket; you will always need one for tasting as you go around your own kitchen one day." Thinking back, I can still remember Henry Brosi's deep Germanic voice and I carried around the same spoon for ages after.
Mark Southon, of the Food Store, brandishes a bread and butter pudding, not unlike the one his mate made and he claimed as his own.
Executive chef, The Foodstore, Auckland.
My food memory is a framed picture of the classic recipe for bread and butter pudding.
My best mate and best man framed it as our wedding gift to ensure I would never forget the incident that occurred when we attended catering college many moons ago. I won't identify this individual, but he is called Tim. In a nutshell, I was keen and quite good, most of the time, when it came to the cooking classes and he hated them as he could not cook.
The day came to prepare the classic British bread and butter pudding dessert, so like every other class we set about cooking our recipes, some more enthusiastic than others. I think I was a little overconfident as I left the pudding in the oven too long at too high a temperature - so completely ruined it. Tim, on the other hand had managed by a stroke of pure genius to nail a perfect bread and butter pudding - even Gordon Ramsay would have been proud of. it
We had the option of buying the food we created or selling it at the local shop in the college. Safe to say I didn't want to take mine home (some poor bugger did) but I did like the look of my mate's, so I told him I would drop them both at the shop.
Instead, I dropped off my abomination and bought his to take home and pass off as my own creation.
Some weeks later, when Tim was around for tea, the truth came out and he has never let it go.
He loves to tell everybody, including emailing Simon Wright when I was at the French Cafe, and has now forever immortalised my horrendous mistake.