Australian Chef of the Year 2023
Lamb cutlets, lamb backstraps, arrow squid and mussels were provided to Foodservice Australia’s annual Australian Chef of the Year contestants in a mystery box during their finals.
Each chef served an entree and main each to the judging table, in the 60-minutes under the pressure of a timer winding down to zero.
Tom Hitchcock, head chef of Spirit House in Queensland, won with the arrow squid in his entree, accompanied by a split green curry beurre blanc, zucchini flower, fried kale and cardamom salt.
Lamb cutlets were the star of his main. Served with a seasonal pine mushroom sambal, whey poached onions and sweet soy sauce eggs.
Chef Hitchcock said although he was surprised by his victory, he felt confident when presenting his dish to the judges table.
“It’s been a goal of mine for the past eight years,” he said.
Hitchcock said it felt like a “stepping stone”, in his career, and it took immense self reflection and discipline to get over the line.
The contest Australian Chef of the Year ended after three days and 12 cook-offs, with chefs from across the country battling it out for the title.
National submissions were whittled down from 180 to 32, and those 32who competed between Sunday April 30 and Tuesday May 2nd.
Chef Hitchcock competed against fierce opposition. Richmond Rodrigues, head chef of Muse Kitchen in New South Wales. Jack Lee, head chef and owner of Nook Dining in Victoria, and Dylan Williams, junior sous chef at Moke Dining in Victoria.
But flavour and presentation on the plate weren’t the only criteria for his victory.
John Mcfadden, head judge of the competition, said the criteria was 50 per cent kitchen work and performance during the cook, as well as 50 per cent from the tasting table.
“They have to nail every single element,” Mcfadden said, from flavour and presentation, to working clean and consistently throughout the hour.
And although it was even in the kitchen overall Mcfadden said, Chef Hitchcock had consistency throughout the heats and semis, which showed true through the finals.
“His flavour profiles were where they needed to be. Flavour and texture,” Mcfadden said.
“One chef left the protein off the plate and lost a lot of points for it. It's hard to claw back from.”
Managing Director of Specialised Events and the event organiser, Tim Colette, said the FoodService Exhibition was the “leading show” for hospitality, and it was designed specifically with chefs in mind.
“Chefs are the heroes of the industry,” Colette said, “they are the creators, the magicians, the scientists, the artists.”
Celebrity judge George Calombaris agreed, calling it a chance for the industry, and “elite individuals”, to come together.
“[We can] stop for a sec, come together as an industry. Which we need to do more of,” Calombaris said.
The late chef Jock Zonfrillo was honoured as the contestants and judges came together in a moment of silence.
“Our thoughts are with his friends and family,” MC Glen Flood said.
This was an important moment of togetherness for the industry.
Calombaris wasn’t the only big-name chef on this year's judging panel either. Renowned chef Scott Pickett, and three leading women chefs were also on the panel.
Jenna Louise Cunningham, Head Chef of Lucy Lou Kitchen and Bar, said in the final her kitchen was “50 per cent female and male.”
And Scott Pickett has championed women throughout his company, with Georgina Dent as head chef of his popular restaurant Estelle, and Kim Berkers as CEO.
Kitchens across Australia only have a female share of 25 per cent, almost half the all job average, according to Labour Insight Markets.
Representation of industry women wasn’t the only subject GoodService took pains to include this year. It was also sustainability and the use of native ingredients.
Sustainable and native products included Akoya oysters. Provided by exhibitors from Leeuwin Coast, the Akoya are native to Western Australia, and sustainably harvested.