Unsociable hours can make chefing an unpopular profession, but some of New Zealand's best chefs are determined to help youngsters stick it out.

Darren Wright from Chillingworth Rd in Christchurch, Marc Soper form Wharekauhau Country Estate in Featherston and Michael Meredith from Merediths in Auckland have agreed to be mentors for three budding chefs as part of The Ora King Next Generation mentoring programme.

The salmon company is giving chefs who ideally have a couple of years' commercial experience the chance to work under them at their restaurants for one week between April and May and learn new skills to take back to their workplaces.

The successful candidates will then show off their skills at an exclusive industry event at Merediths in June.


Wright said by being a mentor he was doing his part in making sure people were passionate about they were doing and would therefore stick out the weekend and night work.

"For me having young kids in to mentor is making sure the industry is in good stead because it's quite a tough industry in terms of retention because lots of young ones come though and they think it's a great profession and so on, but the reality is you work nights and you work weekends and it's tough when all your mates are out doing 21sts and weddings and all that and it can be difficult so it takes a real passionate sort of person that's committed to the industry."

The 42-year-old, who opened his own restaurant four years ago, said apprenticeships were not as common these days so it was great younger chefs would have a chance to have the one-on-one experience.

He started working in the industry as a kitchen hand when he was 14, before working as a chef at a restaurant in Akaroa before working at the Parkroyal in Christchurch for two years.

He said the ideal applicant would be open to new suggestions and ideas and in return would get to spend a week in the restaurant with him from opening to closing.

"I guess it's really important to have someone who buys in to what you are doing as well because if they don't believe in what you are doing then it's sort of a waste of time."

While French chef Maxime Gnojczak said being a mentee in last year's programme had been an incredible experience and working under Darren Johnson at MASU in Auckland had taught him a lot about Asian flavours and cuisine.

"It was absolutely amazing because I have never worked with any Japanese chef or any real Japanese cuisine so it was an excellent opportunity to go from A to Z.

"These guys over there pushed me to learn more and more day after day. It was seven days, but seven days of full-on learning."

The 27-year-old has since left his job as a junior sous chef at One80 to work for new Wellington restaurant Shepherd which had an Asian influence and said his experience at MASU had helped in his new role.

He encouraged anyone thinking about applying to just do it.

"It's a win-win situation."

Applications for the Ora King Next Gen mentoring programme close on March 12.