Late last year 12 of the Mid North Coast’s best chefs went head to head at Port Macquarie TAFE to find out who had the best Signature Dish. Five of the top 12 finalists came from the Greater Port Macquarie area.
It’s a peculiar process for any chef to take something from their menu that truly reflects their flair, while incorporating local produce, and surviving the heat of being surrounded by your competition. But, it was all in a day’s work for 12 of the best culinary cooks on the Mid North Coast, who came together for the celebration of wine and food culture in the area.
The criteria was set. There were two important judging panels, one for the People’s Choice Award, and the Overall Winner of the Signature Dish Competition, judged by Sally Hammond from the Australian Regional Food Guide, leading local wine maker, John Cassegrain from Cassegrain Wines, TAFE Head Cooking Teacher, Mathew Armstrong, and senior teacher, David Baker.
Chefs came from as far as Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour, with visitors and media watching as the chefs went head to head in the TAFE kitchen quarters.
It was a panel of expertise, but what were the judges looking for from the array of talented chefs?
“(The judges) sought a local chef to create a dish that exudes the tastes and personality of our region – one that will long be remembered and associated to our region …” said Mid North Coast Regional Tourism Organisation Marketing Manager, Ms Belinda Novicky.
As the dishes came out one by one, the People’s Choice panel delighted in the samples, chatting among each other about who they thought would walk away with the title. Each new arrival brought about a muster of “Ohs” and “Ahs”, washed down by a Pinot or Verdelho as a gift from Cassegrain.
“This competition clearly illustrates the Mid North Coast of NSW is a strong food and wine destination, with talented chefs using a broad range of fabulous, fresh produce now readily available from farmers’ gates, a strong farmers’ market network and supporting retailers,” Novicky said.
Back to business. Appetites were teased and the panel announced their favourites, but the judges were still deliberating in the quarters over who would take the title for the 2008 Signature Dish Competition. Standing proudly on the stage, 12 of the best chefs, clad in uniform, introduced themselves and their dish, followed by a rumbling round of applause from the crowd.
“In the end it was taste and presentation that got the winner across the line in this closely fought competition,” said Mathew Armstrong. And the chef who served the best?
The inaugural award went to Glenn Thompson, owner and head chef of Zest Restaurant in Nelson Bay with his dish of crusted snapper with fennel and braised artichoke, tomato confit, olive and saffron bouillon and tempura oysters.
The Rydges People’s Choice Award, a very worthy award to claim, was presented to Port Macquarie’s very own Lindsey Schwab, owner of Fusion 7 in Horton Street, with his roast Burrawong duck breast on chickpea mash, field mushroom and caramelised fennel with pomegranate molasses and, macadamia gremolata.
Those who know Lindsey and his restaurant Fusion 7, know that he is one of the finest chefs we have in the area, along with the other finalists who all competed in the competition.
Both of the winning dishes can be found on the menu of the winning restaurant, so if you’re curious about what a 2008 Signature Dish tastes like, make your booking and sample the finest food of the Mid North Coast. Bon Appetite!