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UCOL student named NZ’s top Commis Chef

By UCOL on Friday, 04 August 2017 Meads nationals win.jpeg

UCOL Diploma in Cookery Student Zach Meads has taken out the title of Commis Chef of the Year at the 2017 New Zealand Hospitality Championships in Auckland.

Zach claimed gold medals in the entrée and main course classes, along with a silver medal for his dessert. His combined results saw him win the Commis Chef of the Year category.

Zach started the competition with a dessert consisting of coconut Malibu mousse, lime jelly, mango crèmeux, lime macaron, and coconut snow. 

Next Zach had to make a vegetarian entrée, so he went with a smoked tofu and cheese panna cotta, with pickled vegetables, watercress puree, mushroom ketchup, and beetroot gel. 

On the second day, the challenge was a beef main course, so Zach produced a roasted beef sirloin with garlic mashed potato, mushroom cigar, baby onion, red wine jus, baby broccolini, and carrots.

Zach says he was delighted to be named Commis Chef of the Year, after coming in second in the 2016 competition.

“It feels really great to win, especially after coming second last year.  It’s worth all of the hard work.”

“I was quite nervous at the start because of all the work a lot of people had put in to get me there, but after a while things started to flow and I was having fun.” 

UCOL Chef Lecturer Mark Smith, who has been coaching Zach for competitions since 2015, says he is immensely proud of his student. 

“I’m a very proud man. There was a bit of pressure going into this and to pull it off was amazing and a big relief for me. Zach has been a pleasure to train and he deserves this title. He has worked very hard to get where he has. It’s been an awesome effort.” 

Zach and Mark worked together to come up with the dishes for the competition, refining them throughout the year.

“It was a team effort,” says Zach.

“Mark, with all of his experience, knew what we had to work on and what to add to the dishes. He was able to keep me focused on ways to improve the dishes.”

Zach’s win tops off a journey that started in 2013, when he did a week-long UCOL Baking course while in school, before progressing through UCOL’s Cookery, Baking, and Hospitality programmes.

Zach will spend the next few months finishing up his studies before embarking on his career as a chef.

Even though Zach will be wrapping up his studies this year, he says he plans to continue competing. 

“After three years of competing, it’s definitely a passion. I like pushing myself, and it’s a different experience to cooking in a restaurant. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s good to be able to show your passion off to other people outside of a restaurant.”

Zach says he’s grateful for the support he received from his mentors and sponsors in the lead up to the competition, including UCOL, Cooks Bar & Café, Alf Downs Electrical Group, Akaroa Salmon, Nestlé Professional, The Restaurant Association, NZ Chefs Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu branches, City and Guilds, and Amayjen

“I want to thank the UCOL Chef Training team for all they’ve done for me; Mark for his continued support, training, and for believing that I could win. He has given up so much spare time to pass on his knowledge and passion. I also want to thank Pania Wharewera and Ian Drew for all they did to help make the whole process a success. I’m more than grateful for what they did.” 

Lead image featuring Zach is courtesy of NZ Chefs.