Marc Soper 2016 Chef of the year and winner of Best Ora King Dish 2016

New Zealand national hospitality competitions took place in Auckland NZ in August over 4 days the best of the best battled it out and competed for the top spots for placement across the country.  I took part in the NZ chef of the Nation title, a title I had previously held back in 2005.

To be eligible to compete in the NZ chef of the year class I first had to compete in a regional competition to move through to the next round, which was held in Wellington. The competition here was a 3-hour competition, where I had to prepare a 3 course menu for 4 people, reluctant of the region (Wellington / Wairarapa) and match each course with an appropriate beverage which I did so using amazing Wairarapa wines including Pinot noir from Te Kairanga Vineyard, Martinborough which is also owned by my boss Bill Foley.

I was market on my kitchen skills, the taste and presentation, but also on the beverage match and the variety of local ingredients many of which I had hand selected or foraged for around my workplace of Wharekauhau Country Estate, which is suited on a 5500 ha farm, bordering on native bush and the coast.  I was awarded gold and won the competition also being named as the recipient of the culinary excellence cup, as I had scored highly in this competition the year before being awarded gold. I am the only person in the history of this competition to have achieved gold medals.

Auckland was a little different as there were three different competitions, over 2 days.  The points overall would give the outcome of the supreme champion and be awarded the NZ title.  WACS competition rules are used to judge the competitions and points gained dictate if and what medal is to be awarded per class.  My first competition was a canape class, I was allocated 75 minutes to prepare and present 3 different style canapes 20 individual pieces of each, with service starting not before the 55 minutes.

My canapes were

  • Whangamata seared scallop on The drunken nanny soft goats cheese and garden beetroot puree, peas and caviar
  • Modernised Wharekauhau farm Lamb shank ballotine bites wrapped in spinach topped with Genoese olive tapenade, fresh grape and hazelnut salsa
  • Genoese fresh basil pesto scented rough puff pastry croute topped with maple roasted pear and whipped kikorangi blue cheese

 Whilst I scored very well and was awarded a gold medal I was second place overall.

That night I prepared my Static dishes of a hot presented cold entrée.  Two individually plated entrées with a total weight 90-125g total, 50-75g total weight of protein on plate. Here I was to prepare and present dishes but glaze in an aspic to give them a beautiful shine, whilst not normally eaten.  My dish was at the stage of assembly by 4am that night. Later that morning, after a couple of hours sleep, I was in the kitchen to dip and redip my components of the dish, each one carefully dipped and excess glaze removed in the final stage.

For this class I presented two individually plated entrees called

  • Quail and black pudding with black truffle and Manuka honey 

The makeup of the dish was roasted breast of quail, pistachio leg ballotine, black pudding, carrot miso puree, agria potato and celeriac chive croquette, warm vegetable salad, black truffle finished with a roasted quail and Manuka honey emulsion.  I achieved another gold medal but did not win the class however in the points overall I was now in first place.

The same day was the last competition, three courses in three hours similar to Wellington. I worked hard on preparing each of the components for the dishes having no recipe or work plan but working from practice sessions to know what I must do each step of the way. I was being market on how I managed my working and all areas kitchen, and then once the dishes were presented would then be market on the dish and taste etc. I was happy with my work rate and after two hours started to prepare to plate my fist dish with its 20 odd components being a cheese course I wanted to allow time for it to warm slightly allowing me time to sear off the cervena and get ready on the main components.

I still had to be careful as I was only working on one bench and didn’t want to give the judges the impression I was working unorganised and in clutter thus allowing them the opportunities to remove marks, everyone starts with 100 points, and you must still be above 90 points to achieve a gold medal.

The first course was a cheese course which I was required to use sponsored products from Fonterra

  • Mainland Goats milk feta and manuka bark smoked Marlborough King salmon belly, light house gin, local garden fruits and vegetables 

The main course criteria were to use cervena venison and seasonal vegetables both sponsored products, which I prepared

  • Cervena venison loin, garden spinach custard, celeriac puree, seasonal vegetables, Havana coffee spiced jus

And for my final dish I prepared and presented the following with three minutes to spare on the clock

  • Whittaker’s baked bitter chocolate, Queen vanilla bean paste and coconut pannacotta, fresh orange and rosemary braised pineapple, maple sweetened feijoa and rhubarb compote, pistachio, baby herbs

The final marks would not be announced till the end of the following day, as the final points would give the outcome of the overall winner.  I am pleased to say I won this class and with yet another gold medal, I was so happy, but the best was yet to come. The big announcement made, my name read out as NZ chef of the nation 2016 receiving an overall gold medal and the major prize of a brand new oven sponsored by Moffat.

The win for me means a lot both personally and for the support I had received from my employers and also from suppliers whom assisted with costs of product. It is also a positive motivator and as Conseiller Culinaire for New Zealand it is a positive reinforcement to the young chefs competing that they have reassurance that I know what they are going through and how to deal with the pressures of competition and what It takes to get gold.  The win has enabled great media attention which goes hand in hand with Wharekauhau Country Estate recently becoming a member of Relais & Chateaux.

Marc Soper