The young chefs cooked cleanly and relatively calmly, managing to answer the judges questions and ignore the cameras as they moved around the Crown Hotel's culinariam.

The first round of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition kicked off in Melbourne today, in scenes akin to something out of Masterchef, with Roots restaurant's Christopher Walker and Leslie Hottiaux of Apero Food & Wine the first of the Kiwis to compete.

Five out of the 10 semi-finalists appeared before well-renowned judges and Australian chefs, Peter Gilmore, Jacques Reymond, Peter Doyle, Andrew McConnell and Adam D'Sylva.

Each of the contestants, which also included Garreth Robbs of New South Wales, Kah-Wai Lo of Melbourne and Joshua Gregory of New South Wales, had up to six hours to create their masterpieces.


But there was no thrashing of pots and pans or yelling across the room as each chef worked the six hour time allowance to their advantage to ensure their dish was perfect.

Walker, who finished first, was stationed at the very front of the room but says he wasn't bothered by all the attention and constant quizzing by judges and media.

"I thought it was great," he said afterwards. "It's nice to put New Zealand food on the world stage around such talented chefs. It was amazing."

Walker, who cooked so cleanly his bench never looked used, created 'venison in its natural surroundings'.

The venison was supposed to be wild venison from New Zealand but he wasn't allowed that, his wild blackberries, honey or herbs over the border.

But he was still happy with his creation.

"I got everything done on time, everything was the best it could I suppose with the situation. I sourced probably 95 per cent over here in Australia which worked out okay."

Hottiaux created tortellini using gnocchi dough before filling it with four different types of mushrooms and placing it on crème fraiche before topping it with a pinenut burnt butter sauce, a smattering of aged edam cheese and thinly sliced button mushrooms for crunch.

Hottiaux was pleased with how her dish turned out.

"It was really good, I'm happy with my dish, it went well. Excellent."
Hottiaux wasn't able to bring her own mushrooms, potato or truffle but was still happy with the flavours created.

Judge Jacques Reymond told the Herald while he's looking for creativity - that recognises where the contestant comes from - he doesn't want anything too complicated.

"So not something that we can find anywhere and it doesn't have to be complicated at all ... some people put 15 ingredients in a dish and that won't stand a chance with me."

He says Kiwis are good workers, "they're strong, physically, they can handle pressure, they don't mind that. I like to work with them, I have employed quite a few of them over the years."

Fellow judge Andrew McConnell says the criteria is quite in-depth and is more than just a question of taste.

"It's about the providence, the ingredients, the skill of the chef and the genius which is the creativity and its beauty. Is it beautiful? Because a lot of people believe you eat with your eyes before you eat."

The remaining semi-finalists - who are hoping to win and represent New Zealand and Australia at the world final in Milan in October - will compete on Monday before the winner is announced later that night.