When Noah Cairnduff was finishing school he only wanted to do two things, become a musician or make his way in the hospitality industry.
He chose the kitchen and now the talented guitarist is making music in the kitchen, scoring a silver medal in the 2021 Nestle Golden Chef's Hat Awards.
Now in their 56th year the awards support top emerging talent and are scored against globally recognised culinary standards.
Cairnduff is a second-year apprentice at the Canberra Institute of Technology and is currently working at Table by Canberra Gourmet in Wanniassa. Covid restrictions pending, he will travel to Sydney later in the year to compete in the national finals for the chance to win the Golden Chef of the Year award and a $10,000 cash prize.
"Cooking has always been part of my life," he says.
"To me, being a chef means bringing joy to people through food.
"I think it's important to learn as much as you can whilst you're still young, so this is a great opportunity for me to take it to the next level."
Cairnduff, 19, has grown up in the kitchen alongside his mother and grandmothers and credits his Croatian heritage for having instilled him with a love for food and bringing people together.
But his first experiences in a commercial kitchen were much different.
"I was used to sort of sitting calmly in the kitchen and taking my time, just doing things with my mum," he says.
"But then I stepped into a proper kitchen, there's waiters and waitresses running everywhere, and chefs talking back and forth, it was the first time I'd ever seen inside a kitchen and it was very different."
His first job was at Sage in Braddon, where he also picked up shifts at Akiba and Kokomo's through the owners of all three, the HARVAC group. He's also worked at Midnight Hotel in Braddon.
Thomas Heinrich was head chef at Sage while Cairnduff was there and when Heinrich left to open Table by Canberra Gourmet in 2020, he eventually called the young apprentice. Cairnduff started there just after Christmas last year.
"Thomas is a really talented chef, he's just amazing really. He has so much experience and he just has these ideas and finds inspiration from all sorts of places.
"I'm learning something every day. It's just the two of us, so it's one on one pretty much every day, which is awesome."
For the competition Cairnduff cooked a two-course meal.
For mains he made seared chicken breast, chicken thigh roulade, leek and mushroom puree with a tarragon gastrique, chicken gravy, sauteed cavolo nero and fried tarragon leaves.
For dessert he made pot de crème with poached rhubarb, a port wine and balsamic reduction, finished with a nutmeg tuile.
Nestlé Professional head judge Mark Clayton was impressed by Cairnduff's efforts.
"Noah really proved his cooking passion and delivered standout dishes," Clayton said.
"It's never been more important to come together to support our industry, inspire young talent and provide key skills for them to succeed in their careers.
"This award is about pushing yourself to be a better chef. It's a chance for young chefs to step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves."
Eventually Cairnduff would like to open his own restaurant.
"But I just want to keep working in the industry, learn has much as I can, and make myself the best chef I can be."