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Hot team cooks up top award

§ August 9th, 2006 § Filed under Uncategorized Comments Off on Hot team cooks up top award

No kitchen is too hot for Okurukuru Winery’s award-winning team. The Taranaki restaurant was this week named the best in the business at the New Zealand Culinary Fare in Auckland, beating out competition from around the country.

Under intense scrutiny and with their every move shown on the big screen, Simon Houghton, Kristin McCormack and Troy Waters designed, cooked and presented a three-course meal, recreating their restaurant for the judges.

To spice things up, the team had just 30 minutes to design a dessert from a mystery box of ingredients.
Mr Houghton, the restaurant’s executive chef, said there was no room for error in the competition’s arena setting.

“There’s a lot of pressure and you just have your head down the whole time,” he said. “Each team starts with a score of 100 and the judges take a point off for everything they see you do wrong. They’re being as picky as possible.”

Everything the team did to prepare in the months before the competition had an impact on the day, Mr Houghton said, right down to getting a shine on the pans.

“We spent two days beforehand scrubbing and polishing pans and trays. We use them every day of the year but we want them to look good for the competition,” he said.

The team fed off the encouragement of other Okurukuru staff who joined them on the trip, an annual event with the full support of Okurukuru owners Chris and Peter Hayward.

“We hire a big flat in Auckland and we all stay there.

“There’s a big camaraderie thing going on,” Mr Houghton said. Among those making the trip north was 18-year-old Spotswood College student Ellee Donald.

Miss Donald competed in four categories, claiming three gold medals and one bronze as well as the title of New Zealand junior food and beverage person of the year.

After two previous trips to the competition, it was third time lucky for Miss Donald, who said it took a while for her win to sink in.

“I was lying in bed that night thinking `Did tonight really happen?”’ she said.
The whole team was “just amazed” with its victory, Mr Houghton said.

“Even though we’re a small company from Taranaki, we can go and beat the big boys,” he said. “It’s worth all the work and stress.”

A number of other Taranaki competitors tasted success at the competition, including five students from New Plymouth’s Pacific International Hotel Management School, who brought home six medals.