Aspiring Auckland chef Julius Caesar has taken out top place at the Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chefs Challenge 2022.
A senior chef de partie at Ponsonby Road Bistro, Caesar competed alongside three other young chefs at the final event held in Auckland this week.
Open to all chefs under the age of 40 either working or training in New Zealand, the competition saw entrants submit a Chinese or Chinese-inspired dish and video online, using a minimum of three Lee Kum Kee sauces or condiments.
The four finalists selected to compete included:
- Julius Caesar, 35, senior chef de partie at Ponsonby Road Bistro, Ponsonby. Julius presented a dish of crispy pork belly, pork mince, noodles and crispy wontons
- Luke Gardiner, 31, chef and owner at Auckland-based food truck Catchya Cookout. Luke served up Dai Pai Dong-style wok tossed clams in black bean garlic sauce
- Zeeshan Babwani, 24, sous chef at The Hangar, Henderson. Zeeshan presented judges with a dish of Szechuan-spiced, butter-poached monkfish
- And 2021 competition winner Jacob Aomarere-Poole, 24, a sous chef at The Strongroom, Fielding. Jacob served up a chilli crusted beef eye fillet, with choy sum, prawn wonton, seared onions, chilli gazpacho and pepper gel
Battling it out in front of a live audience at Main Course in Auckland on Monday, the finalists had 90 minutes to make and present their dish to a judging panel made up of Main Course owner Sonya Oyston, Waitakere Licensing Trust head chef Paulie Hooton, and Mark Dronjak, a seasoned chef with over 40 years’ experience and a wealth of published work.
Taking home a $3,000 cash prize and the title of 2022 Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chef, the judges described Caesar as a “talented chef with a mature palette and a big future”.
While the competition was strong, Julius’s dish stood out for its depth of flavour, said Dronjak.
“The pork belly was beautifully moist. The crispy crackling, wontons and bean sprout slaw all provided great texture. It was total umami. I literally wanted to sit down and eat the whole thing.”
Oyston said each element worked really well together but could stand on its own also.
“I really liked the way he rendered down the pork fat and used that to flavour the noodles.
“The original recipe came from his grandmother’s mother and is one Julius has gone on to refine, so there is a nice story behind it too.”
While Hooton was impressed with Caesar’s understanding of flavour combinations and cooking techniques.
“It was interesting to watch him make his five spice visually rather than measuring it out. He obviously had a process and really knew his flavours and wasn’t frightened to use spice.
“The guy clearly has a very mature palette, understands food trends and flavour combinations and is a really confident cook.”
The judges noted this year’s finalists had all found creative ways to hero the Lee Kum Kee ingredients, so it was only fitting that each walked away with more than $200 of Lee Kum Kee products.
Delighted to see Caesar take out the top prize, Eugene Rush, Marketing Manager at Acton International Marketing, said the New Zealand competition is part of a global initiative by Lee Kum Kee to help nurture Chinese culinary talent.
“We may be a small player on the global stage, but New Zealand has a strong tradition in Chinese cooking and there is real innovation happening across Asian cuisines here, whether it be Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, Japanese or Asian fusion.
“Competing against the best provides the finalists with a real opportunity for growth and inspiration, and the winner gets both recognition for their talents and a cash reward.”
Gilmours Marketing Lead Nadia Lopes congratulated Caesar on the win on behalf of event sponsors Gilmours and Trents. “As suppliers to thousands of restaurants and hospitality venues across the country, Gilmours and Trents are delighted to help support both the growth of developing chefs like Julius and Asian cuisine here in New Zealand.”
Held earlier this year due to Covid delays, the 2021 challenge saw 24-year-old Jacob Aomarere-Poole - a sous chef from Amayjen in Palmerston North at the time - take out top place with his dish of sweet and sour fish stuffed tofu, and daikon soy salad.
Renowned for inventing oyster sauce more than 130 years ago, Lee Kum Kee is one of the world’s most recognisable makers of authentic Chinese sauces and condiments and has been popular in both commercial and home kitchens across New Zealand since the 1970s. Acton International Marketing is Lee Kum Kee’s sole distributor in New Zealand.
The 2022 Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chefs Challenge has been proudly supported by Gilmours and Trents.