Noah Cairnduff, a third-year apprentice at Canberra Institute of Technology who works at Table at the Truffle Farm, has won the ACT heat of the 2022 Nestlé Golden Chefs Hat Award.
The achievement will see him head to Melbourne in September where he will cook-off in the grand final against Australia's best young chefs.
It's the second time Cairnduff has competed in the event, now in its 57th year. Last year he qualified for the finals and while it was still a learning experience for the young chef, they were held virtually because of COVID.
"I'm so glad I did it again and gave it another go," says the 20-year-old.
"It's a pretty high-pressure environment but I really enjoy that.
"I can't wait for the grand finals, getting to go up against the best young chefs around will be an awesome experience and another learning curve for my progression."
He grew 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. 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 in 2020, he called the young apprentice.
For this year's competition Cairnduff delivered punchy flavours across his menu and showcased great technical skills to land a bronze medal for his two-course menu.
He served a main of apple-roasted pork rack with an Asian pork neck salad, carrot puree and freekeh crumb and a lime curd dessert with condensed milk caramel with red wine jelly and a wasabi white chocolate crumb.
Karlie Durrant, communications and sustainability manager at Nestlé Professional said the competition was judged to globally recognised standards.
"Noah really delivered on the day with a considered and well executed menu that stood out from the rest," she says.
"We can't wait to see what he creates under the intense pressure and thrill of the live chef-to-chef grand finals."
The grand final is in Melbourne in September with the title of Golden Chef of the Year and a $10,000 cash prize up for grabs. There are also two new $2500 culinary tuition cash prizes for best savoury dish and best dessert dish.
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