Choosing just five chefs out of the 30 bright sparks, aged under 30, that entered the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year competition has been no easy task. Despite widely reported staff shortages in the hospitality industry, the level of talent is at an all-time high.
The five award finalists converged on Bistro Moncur in Sydney last week to meet the panel of judges who will decide this year's winner, who will be revealed at the Good Food Guide Awards, presented by Citi and Vittoria, at Melbourne's Crown Casino on October 8.
The judging panel – chief judge Damien Pignolet; Alla Wolf-Tasker, doyenne of Victoria's Lake House; Ben Russell, head chef of Aria Brisbane, Queensland; long-time panel member Margie Agostini; and Good Food Guide 2019 editor Myffy Rigby – subjected the five finalists to questions about everything from the books they read and where they see themselves in five years' time, to why they love to cook.
Along with taking home the prestigious national title, the winner will receive a cash prize of up to $20,000, a return overseas flight, help with placement at an overseas restaurant, and a set of Shun knives valued at $3000, thanks to the hard work of Damien Pignolet and the generosity of the NSW food scene.
All five finalists will be invited to attend the Good Food Guide Awards, with the winner joining an honour roll that includes some of the best chefs this country has produced.
While we had them in a room, we took the opportunity to subject them all to a Quickfire Corner. Check it out.
Finalist Monika Frkovic from Piccolina Gelateria. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Pastry chef, Piccolina Gelateria, Victoria
Music to cook to: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West.
Midnight snack: Nothing beats a killer piece of cheese and lavosh. Brillat Savarin is what I get my cheeky hands on when I've had a long day.
Kitchen weapon at work: I'll always shotgun the newest spatula. Can't go past it.
Formative food moment: Very early into my apprenticeship, I went to dine at Maha [in Melbourne] and they served this gorgeous piece of snapper on top of a rich pork stew – it was so unconventional but it's always stuck with me.
Malcolm Hanslow from Oscillate Wildly. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Casual chef, Oscillate Wildly, New South Wales
Music to cook to: Danzig, Jawbreaker, Springsteen.
Midnight snack: Avocado toast. Also fruit and nut chocolate.
Kitchen weapon at work: Silky brand kitchen scissors.
Formative food moment: My grandfather's neighbours used to grow the most incredible white peaches. When I was young I would visit on school holidays and "help" them pick the fruit they would take to the market.
Daniel Lidgard of Pt Leo Estate. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Junior sous chef, Point Leo Estate, Victoria
Music to cook to: Radiohead.
Midnight snack: A ham and cheese toasted sandwich.
Kitchen weapon at work: Executive chef Phil Wood's new Dremel power tool [for buffing fine chips out of plates and opening sea urchin].
Formative food moment: 142 days on earth at Attica.
Jessica Moore of Bea at Barangaroo House. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Chef de partie, Bea at Barangaroo, New South Wales
Music to cook to: You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon (but just the tune). Paris by the Chainsmokers (but just the chorus). Anything to get us pumped up and excited.
Midnight snack: White bread toasted and then tasty cheese all the way to the edge and under the grill until golden.
Kitchen weapon at work: My new carver that I just brought back from Japan. It's very sleek and super sharp. Also the charcoal grills we use. They get so hot you feel like you're melting.
Formative food moment: At my first job as a first-year apprentice was the first time I tried raw fish. It was our amuse bouche. It just blew my mind. Kingfish tartare (shallot, chives, lemon oil) cauliflower puree, beurre noisette and coriander cress. I can still remember the taste and texture.
Jodie Odrowaz of Iki-Jime. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Junior sous chef, Iki-Jime, Victoria
Music to cook to: Definitely Ice-cube/NWA. Has to be upbeat! A great way to get you moving to music at the same pace.
Midnight snack: I eat almost every night after work. Staff meal is at 4.30pm, so I'm starving after service. If I'm wrecked I'll have a toastie. Otherwise some butter chicken or pomodoro spaghetti – very comforting, and prepares me to sleep.
Weapon at work: My extended arm, chef's knife and a Sharpie (boring, but essential).
Formative food moment: Having fresh almonds for the first time in Pierre Gagnaire's Gaya Rive Gauche in Paris.