International Chefs' Day in Melbourne

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When a chef comes into the kitchen wielding a chainsaw it could be time to pack your knives and head out the door. However, no one seemed too fazed by the incident in Melbourne on October 20. It was all part of the fun as local chefs celebrated International Chefs’ Day with a “new school” versus “old school” tag team culinary challenge.

Melbourne’s weather has a reputation for producing four seasons in one day but spring and summer were definitely not on the menu. At once stage if started to look like a reality TV programme as chefs outnumbered the public by about 10 to one but curiosity got the better of passersby. Invitations to join the fun plus the aroma of barbecuing meat soon lured an audience off the street.

“Oldies” George Hill and Gary Farrell lined up to pit their skills against Chris Wade and Leigh Neville. Each team was given the challenge of producing an entrée and a main in one hour but until the contest began, neither had a clue what ingredients they would be working with – until the lid was lifted on the mystery box.

Fresh vegetables, salad greens, herbs, lamb rumps, salmon, oil, wine, a pouch of cooked duck, seasonings – all were up for grabs and grab they did.  The teams had 15 minutes to devise their menus. Then the knives were out! Team members alternated for 15-minute spells then after an hour joined forces to plate their dishes.

There was a lot of good-natured mischief going on along with the slicing, sautéing, searing and saucing. Farrell found a chainsaw out back (more about that later) and tried to intimidate the opposition. Hill boasted he was so adept with the knife he could use it blindfolded. There was a bit of ingredient thievery going on in the background. The “new school” even managed to corner the salt for much of the competition.

Young chefs from Melbourne’s new Fifteen restaurant dropped by to check progress and the audience was sustained by $3 tasting plates (lamb cutlets or salmon) hot off the barbecue.

Hill and Farrell produced a salmon entrée and barbecued lamb rumps while Wade and Neville made a Peking duck duet followed by a lamb dish.

It was a race to the finish post and the three guest judges, plucked from the audience, plunged their knives and forks enthusiastically into the four well presented dishes.

The crowd were quick to vote for the “new school” menu, then Glenn Austin, president of the Australian Culinary Federation and Australian Culinary Olympic Team manager opted for the old school. It was up to the judging panel to have the casting vote and they were unanimous – new school.

Wade and Neville made the appropriate gloatingly triumphant gestures while Farrell and Hill didn’t sulk for long.

But wait! There was more. A huge block of ice arrived and Kevin Starrow - who had shared MC-ing with Steve Bennett, Victoria president of the Australian Culinary Foundation - whipped out that chainsaw and ice chisels and carved the block into a chef’s toque, a cool end to the celebration.

It’s two years since International Chefs’ Day was inaugurated. It is the brainchild of Bill Gallagher, honorary life president of the World Association of Chefs' Societies. Each October 20  culinarians salute the profession and create awareness of chefs who have set remarkable industry standards in the art of cooking. Events marking the day are held worldwide and funds are raised for local projects.

Money raised at the Melbourne event will to the Australian Culinary Federation’s Indigenous Culinary Foundation which has been created to address the need for proper health and meaningful employment within aboriginal communities throughout Australia. The aim is to allow indigenous Australians the opportunity to become self-sufficient, providing training in the basics of commercially cookery and beverage skills and providing opportunities never before available to rural communities.

Glenn Austin, a foundation director, says: “It’s widely known that the hospitality Industry is grossly understaffed and it is equally well known that the Aboriginal community is in desperate need of skills and jobs. The Australian Culinary Federation’s Indigenous Culinary Foundation will provide the basics of hospitality skills. Once people are trained and practised in these skills it will form the front line of an approach that will allow the remote communities to set up their own small businesses in tourism.”

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