A clever dessert by pastry chef Gareth Williams won the popular vote by a country mile at this year’s Hunter Culinary Association Food Fight.
His jasmine rice pudding with rhubarb, pomegranate, goat’s curd sorbet and pain d’epice dessert was the dish of the day at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley on Tuesday, June 6.
But it was business as usual in the Restaurant Mason kitchen on Wednesday for the 28-year-old New Zealand native, who started his career as an apprentice chef at the tender age of 16.
The eighth annual Food Fight raised more than $30,000 for the Brett Graham Scholarship and OzHarvest. Four chefs created one dish each, matched with a Hunter Valley wine, and the 350 guests voted for their favourite.
The feast began with a paperbark-smoked salmon served with sour cream, cucumber and rye created by Muse Kitchen head chef Sean Townsend. It was followed by a cauliflower, kohlrabi, seaweed and umami broth dish from Rob Kabboord, chef de cuisine at Quay Restaurant, and pork neck with molasses, turnips and black garlic from Sixpenny sous chef Aaron Ward.
It took Williams two weeks of trial and error to come up with his winning dessert.
“I wanted to create something that had wicked flavours and textures and could be plated in a way which I like to call “forgiving plating”, where you can just pile everything on top of each other but it still looks modern and interesting,” he explained.
“All the textures and flavours work with one another.”
Behind the scenes it was, Williams said, “crazy”.
“There wasn’t much of a wait between courses. I didn’t get much time to brief my team and had to start plating my course when the mains were going out,” he said.
“I just started grabbing people and telling them what they had to do with a particular element.”
And while the cook-off competition was fierce, it was also friendly: “There were no egos or anything like that. We all supported each other.”
The unassuming but talented Williams is looking forward to his next challenge – opening a pop-up bakery called Covered in Crumbs.
Troy Rhoades-Brown of Muse Restaurant and Muse Kitchen was named this year’s Industry Person of Excellence at Food Fight. Robert Molines was last year’s winner.