I inadvertently gave the students at Tahiti’s hotel management school some guest management training during my overnight stay at the Tiki Hotel. I had flown into Tahiti late, checking in to the hotel at 2am and then overslept, causing delays for housekeeping and work for reception in ensuring I was where I needed to be for competition day of the International Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge.
The very early morning briefing was strictly business, the competitors and their teachers had had their fun over the last few days, visiting fish farms, pineapple plantations, multiple restaurants and taking Tahitian dance lessons. Now it was down to business. The rules were spelled out and there was no room for messing about.
Clize Craven and Miku Kiyama from Canterbury’s Burnside High School had won the New Zealand’s National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge in August and were here competing against 10 other teams from the Asia Pacific Rim for the international title.
Each team had to present four exact same plates for judging. Their dish had to contain a fillet of batfish, an additional 25g of protein and a minimum of 1 turned item with 1 other precision cut (brunoise, macedoine, etc). A minimum of four accepted methods had to be used in preparation and cookery. Judges would also be accessing the presentation of competitors, their recipes, workplans and supporting notes, their tools, equipment, knife skills, hygiene … it went on. Then there was arrangement and presentation — the colour, texture and overall harmony of the dish and its taste and flavours … all very scary from where I was standing.
Team Burnside were cooking paupiettes of batfish filled with a parsley mousseline sitting on a buttered nage and tomato concasse with vichy carrots, oyster mushroom and bean salad and green pea dauphine.
It was a dish designed by team coach and mentor Mark Wylie. Mark is the general manager for food service management company Cater Plus Services. He has been chief judge of the National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge for the last three years and told me he gets an enormous amount of satisfaction from it. His role at Cater Plus has seen him move out of the kitchen and the competition allows him to remain connected with up-and-coming chefs, which is something he is very passionate about.
Batfish? “Yes we all asked that,” said Mark. “I’d never heard of it before this trip. They are farmed in Tahiti, the local name is parahapeue. The john dory that we get in New Zealand is similar to look at but the taste is quite different. We had to speculate on the flavour and cooking characteristics of it but all the teams outside of Tahiti were in the same position.” Miku had the job of filleting the foreign fish, which she said took her more time than it should have. Clize disagreed, saying “she adjusted amazingly”.
It was actually the potatoes that provided the biggest challenge.
The dauphine required floury potatoes and they were hard to find. Many varieties were tested before something suitable was found. “The final result sufficed but it was not what we were used to,” said Clize. The green pea and cream cheese dauphine is her favourite part of the dish and she has provided the recipe, below, listed just as it was on their competition recipe card. The recipe card also lists the method for plating the final dish in very fine detail:
1 Place the serving dishes with the paupiettes and nage in the centre of a rectangle plate. The handle of the serving dishes should run from 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock.
2 Place three of the vichy carrots in to each of the paupiette serving dishes.
3 Arrange a small mound of the mushroom and bean salad next to the side of the serving dish handle.
4 Place two green pea dauphines on each plate. Serve immediately.
No pressure! Mark was allowed in the kitchen for a brief time to get the girls set up, then it was everybody out and cooking began.
Being part of the media I was allowed to come and go. It was hellishly hot and the judges’ scrutiny was intense — missing nothing as they walked through the kitchen for the whole hour.
The girls were calm and collected throughout. Mark was sitting in a room next door with City & Guilds’ Glenn Fulcher (NSSCC event organiser and judge), Burnside High teachers Nathan Sandes and Kristie Hanley and Pip Duncan from vegetables.co.nz (sponsor). They were a fun group and there were lots of laughs as they talked through their Tahitian experiences but I didn’t see Mark relax once — he likened it to waiting for the birth of a baby. He’d done all he could, all he could do now was watch the live video from the kitchen but a malfunction meant they were only showing one side of the kitchen — not where Team Burnside was working. We laughed as he remonstrated about watching the wrong baby being born.
Taiwan took the top honours. Mark said the Burnside girls had executed their dish perfectly and he thought they would have placed higher than they did. Clize said they were just incredibly thankful for the experience and that she learnt a lot. Miku said the standard of the other teams’ dishes had motivated her to compete again.
These competitions offer incredible experiences for Year 12 and 13 students. Even if cooking is not part of their future they have proved they are disciplined, motivated, can take instruction and work under pressure. They will be great cooks for life.
Mark has been involved in a lot of youth competitions and says that Clize and Miku would be up there with the very best students that he has seen at this level. Miku does see herself cooking as a career. Clize prefers front-of-house and said, “Although I love cooking, I have always been more a customer service person."
Here’s to the girls’ fine foodie futures and congratulations to Nathan, Kristie and Mark, whose teaching talents got the girls where they are today.
Green pea and cream cheese dauphine
20g cream cheese
360g floury potato (such as agria)
- Crush the peas and mix with the cream cheese. Divide into 8 even-size balls and freeze.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into pieces approximately 80g in size. Place in a pot of cold, salted water, bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are soft (approximately 15 minutes).
- Drain the water from the potatoes, return to a low heat and allow all of the steam to evaporate (approximately 10 minutes). Pass through a mouli and cool.
- Place 65ml water in a pot with the butter and salt. Bring to the boil, add the flour and continue to cook until the mixture forms a ball and doesn’t stick to the side of the pan.
- Allow the flour mixture to cool before slowly mixing in the beaten egg. The end mixture should fall evenly from a spoon. This is the choux pastry mix.
- Combine the choux pastry and potato puree. Divide into 8 even balls and place the frozen cream cheese and pea balls in the centre of the mix.
- Lightly grease a large tablespoon and shape each of the balls in to an even quenelle.
- Deep-fry the quenelles at 200C for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown on the outside. Season lightly with salt and serve immediately.