There's a transtasman competition heating up in the kitchen this weekend as five of New Zealand's top young chefs take on five of Australia's best, all vying for a spot in a world championship.
The Grove's senior sous chef Josh Barlow is armed with his wild venison haggis dish, while Orphan's Kitchen head chef and co-owner Tom Hishon has the unique Aotearoa blackfoot dish as they head into the semifinals of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition in Melbourne.
The youngest competitor is 20-year-old Joshua Ross from Logan Brown in Wellington, and French native Leslie Hottiaux, head chef and co-owner of Apero Food and Wine, has created a gnocchi tortellini filled with four types of mushrooms.
The top five is rounded out by 23-year-old Christopher Walker of Roots restaurant in Christchurch with his dish "venison in its natural surroundings".
Key aspects of the competition are that the chefs "demonstrate they have the skills to select unique ingredients, can successfully transform those ingredients into a beautifully presented dish while respecting its essence and have a balance of taste and shape", the competition spokesperson says.
The chefs are broken into two groups, the first group competing against each other on Sunday, the remaining group on Monday before the winner is announced at the event's dinner on Monday night.
The chefs will source their ingredients prior to their cook-off at the local South Melbourne market but can also buy them elsewhere.
They will have six hours to prepare and cook six servings of their dish for the local jury who will give it a score out of 10 based on set criteria; ingredients, skills, genius, beauty and message.
Barlow says he created his wild venison haggis dish especially for the competition and describes it as "smoky, it's earthy and super rich".
"It's not on the menu at The Grove, it's just one of those that I have had going on in the background and are slowly working on and by doing a competition like this it gives you the chance to play with it a bit more and taste it and slowly evolve it ... it's my style on the plate."
The haggis includes, the liver, heart and kidney, while the artichokes are cooked in hay. With all those flavours combined, he hopes to win over the judges.
Hishon's inspiration for his Aotearoa blackfoot is "Aotearoa or New Zealand".
"For me I just wanted to showcase a dish that really encapsulates New Zealand."
He serves the blackfoot paua in its shell giving it visual appeal and uses three different native seaweeds together with native spinach.
"I've got some fresh cucumber in there too that's just a nice fresh addition, it doesn't have too much flavour it just lightens it up."
Hottiaux originally created her dish for her parents who were travelling over from France to dine in her restaurant for the first time.
Her tortellini is made using gnocchi dough and will be topped with fresh shaved button mushroom for crunch and freshness.
Walker says cooking has always been a passion since he was a kid when he and his family would go foraging on the West Coast, which he says plays a big part in inspiring his dishes.
He says Roots is a nature-based restaurant which follows the season and showcases organic New Zealand produce that's available at the time.
"The concept behind the dish is to serve the protein in its natural environment and it's really just to showcase New Zealand produce."
Meanwhile, Ross, who has been working at Logan Brown since he left school two years ago, says he's nervous yet excited to be competing alongside so many of Australia's best chefs.
He thanks his boss, Shaun Clousten, for encouraging him to enter and wanted to create a dish that caught the judges' eye.
He chose hare as it's different and they experiment with game dishes at Logan Brown. Combined with his childhood of foraging he remembered his days hunting wild blackberries as a kid.
"I'm excited but pretty nervous. I've never really done anything like this before and the other people are all quite high up and have a lot of experience. The reason I entered was just to try it and give it a go. It will be really good experience."
Venison in its natural surroundings
Venison, berries, mushrooms, native wild herbs
Orphan's Kitchen, Auckland
Blackfoot paua, seaweed, native spinach and cucumber
Apero Food & Wine
Gnocci tortellini filled with four types of mushroom and fresh truffle served with creme fraiche and truffle sauce and pinenut brown butter sauce.
Logan Brown, Wellington
Wild hare loin with meade gel, shitaki mushrooms, gingerbread and pickled blackberries
Restaurant: The Grove
Competition dish: Wild venison haggis with artichokes in a smoked beetroot sauce and burnt cream
The writer is heading to cover the event courtesy of SanPellegrino.