|Why did you decide to participate in the 2013 Culinary Fare?
The Culinary Fare or any competition for that matter is always a great experience for any chef of any level. It takes a lot of courage to enter and compete. But it is also a great learning process. You have to design dishes that you are capable of executing well in the time-frame given. During the preparation you learn more skills as well learn how to cope with the pressure.
Who assisted you with your entries and practice to the Culinary Fare categories you competed in?
All Chefs at Jet Park contributed to my practices in one way or the other. Some were giving me great advice from their past competition experiences; the girls in the morning shift let me use the kitchen even when they were very busy. And I am grateful that I had Executive Chef, Nancye on my side during that time. She is a great mentor and I couldn`t have done it without her. With her being a judge, she was able to point things out that my judges would look for. She has been very supportive during that time and was the person who would calm me down when I got to the point were I just wanted to give up. She pushes me always to go the one step further.
What was the single most helpful thing you did in preparation for the comps?
Chef's best advice for me was “Stick to what you know best." I had a scratch book for the comps were I would write down recipes, plating ideas etc. and on the front page I wrote in big bold letters: STICK TO WHAT U KNOW BEST. It may sound a bit weird, but it happens to many competitors and it happened to me before that we try to re-invent the wheel. And there is no need for it. Keep it simple and clean.
What would you do differently if you competed again?
There is always room for improvement. I need to work on my presentation skills, knife skills, flavour combinations and so on, but this applies pretty much to any young chef. And I would try to get organised sooner, and my dishes sorted.
What was the most challenging/difficult thing about the comps.
First of all the lack of sleep and the extra hours in the kitchen.
But my biggest fear was the static dish. It was my first time to enter this class and I didn't have a clue about glazing. But that's what the comps are about. You overcome your fears and learn new things.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of the comps?
When you bring your plate to the judges on time and you know you did as best as you could. Of course there are always doubts like- did I cooked the salmon right, is the seasoning correct… And of course it's a great buzz with all the people cheering for you, especially in the last few minutes and seconds. You get to know many other chefs, who just randomly come up to you and start a conversation, because they watched you or saw you at the prize-giving. But really, the most enjoyable moment this year for me was of course when I got announced as the winner. It was a team effort of all Chefs at Jet Park. They all supported me along the journey.
What advice would you give to others who are considering entering the comps in 2014?
I never thought about winning and I just concentrated on myself and my dishes. I started every single class with a fresh head and nothing but my dish on my mind. As soon as the clock starts running I get into my zone and block everyone and everything else out. Just practice your dishes as much as you need to and during the comp be as confident as you can.
What are your career goals in hospitality?
I don`t really have big goals right now. I just want to improve my skills, get a bit more into pastry work and just become the best chef I can be.
Anja Sunnus, NZ Commis Chef of the Year 2013, Culinary Fare 2013
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