HE'S BEEN voted the best young chef in the state but one of Nick Gardner's favourite tasks was cooking for his grandparents in Tamworth last year.
The coveted Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award has just been presented to Nick, but in his family he's famous for cooking a 60th wedding anniversary feast for his grandparents, local couple Thel and Les Gardner.
Granddad Les, 82, can't recite the recipe but does remember just "how delicious and special it was for Nick to do that for us and the family. He is very talented and a nice, young bloke," Les said.
According to Les, good cooking runs in the family and he rates wife Thel and son Graham, who is Nick's father, as being "very handy in the kitchen".
Nick's parents moved to Forster some years ago where Nick completed high school and started work in Forster's favourite restaurant, Bella Bellissimo. He then went on to work in Nelson Bay, the USA and now Sydney, where he is the sous chef at Tetsuya's.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Awards was the industry's night of nights as well as a celebration of culinary greatness, hats and champagne.
In a big year for Sydney dining, the prestigious Hat Awards saw 27 new restaurants gain a hat and 12 others stripped of theirs, new Star City restaurant Momofuku Seiobo shot straight into being one of only five three-hat restaurants after only one year of being opened, and Restaurant of The Year Award went to Quay Restaurant, in Circular Quay.
The night saw Zest, where Nick started in Sydney, winning one hat, and Quay Restaurant, where he completed his apprenticeship, winning Restaurant of the Year, and his employer Tetsuya's, winning the People's Choice Award.
"Considering the past winners were amazing chefs, I'm overwhelmed. The process gave me clarity about why I love this industry," Nick said.
Nick is using the $15,000 prizemoney to travel Europe and Asia, and learn more to put another feather in his hat.