Palmerston North chef takes out Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chefs Challenge

Palmerston North chef takes out Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chefs Challenge

Aspiring Palmerston North chef Jacob Aomarere-Poole has taken out top place at the Lee Kum Kee New Zealand Developing Chefs Challenge 2021.

Aomarere-Poole, a sous chef at Palmerston North’s Amayjen, competed alongside other finalists to take the top prize at the competition held in Auckland on February 21, 2022.

Originally meant to happen in 2021, Covid 19 restrictions scuttled plans for August and October. With small events now possible, Acton National Key Account Manager Alisdair Methven said organisers were pleased the New Zealand event could finally take place.

Aomarere-Poole, who has spent the past eight months at Amayjen, a notable newcomer to the Cuisine Good Food Awards round up of New Zealand’s best restaurants for 2021/2022, took home a $3,000 cash prize and takes up a year-long ambassadorial role with Lee Kum Kee. The winner was also meant to represent New Zealand at the Lee Kum Kee International Young Chinese Culinary Chefs Competition in Hong Kong this September, however the international competition has again been postponed.

Open to all chefs under the age of 40 either working or training in New Zealand, the Gilmours and Trents sponsored competition required aspiring chefs to submit a Chinese or Chinese-inspired dish, using a minimum of three Lee Kum Kee sauces or condiments.

The four finalists who were selected to compete included:

  • Jacob Aomarere-Poole, 24, sous chef at Amayjen, Palmerston North. Jacob’s dish was sweet and sour fish stuffed tofu, and daikon soy salad
  • Max Loh Zhang Yao, 19, student at Le Cordon Bleu NZ, Wellington. Max presented a dish of sesame coated pork with fried glutinous balls, choy sum, sautéed shitake and plum jus
  • Ziek Pittams-Hudson, 31, chef at St Johns Club, Wanganui. Ziek presented a vegan dish of Vegan Kung Pao style cauliflower with mushroom lychee bao and chilli lychee glaze
  • Jomel Bartolome, 40, head chef at Northstar Motel Bar & Restaurant, Oamaru. Jomel served chicken with a teriyaki vinaigrette and cold noodle salad. This was Jomel’s second time as a finalist

Held at Auckland’s Main Course on Monday, contestants had 90 minutes to make and present their dish to a judging panel including Khai Yee ‘KK’ Khor, head chef at hot new Chinese eatery Ghost Street in central Auckland and part of Comensa Group which includes award-winning eateries Café Hanoi, Saan and XuXu Dumpling Bar.

Joining KK were seasoned judges Paulie Hooton, ex head chef at Sanford NZ and The Oyster Inn and currently contract chef at The Heke on Waiheke Island, and Mark Dronjak, secretary of the NZ Chefs Association and a seasoned chef with over 40 years in the kitchen and a wealth of published work across radio, newspapers and magazines.

Cooking competitions are challenging, said Dronjak. “And this year was tough. All the dishes were strong technically, with great flavour, ideas and results, and excellent use of ingredients.”

While all the contestants did a great job, the winning dish stood out in its execution, said Hooton. “Jacob’s dish was outstanding with big flavour profiles and every component working beautifully together.”

“The fish was cooked perfectly,” said KK. “The flavours were well balanced, and the pickle was a great combination with the dark soy sauce jelly.”

All finalists walked away with more than $200 of Lee Kum Kee products.

Methven said Acton was delighted the New Zealand challenge could finally go ahead.

“This was the third time we had booked a date for the challenge, but we had been unable to go ahead with both previous dates. Now that we are able to travel freely, we thought we’d give it one more go.”

Methven said organisers worked within current pandemic guidelines, incorporating social distancing, mask use, separated food presentation and vaccine passes, and accommodating special requests regarding travel arrangements with any finalists who did not want to fly.

Gilmours Marketing Lead Nadia Lopes congratulated Aomarere-Poole on the win. “As suppliers to thousands of restaurants and hospitality venues across the country, both Gilmours and Trents are delighted to help support both the growth of developing chefs like Jacob and Asian cuisine here in New Zealand.”

Renowned for inventing oyster sauce over 130 years ago, today 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. 

The 2021 Lee Kum Kee NZ Developing Chefs Challenge has been proudly supported by Gilmours and Trents.

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