A chef that was discovered by Master Chef NZ judge Simon Gault 16 years ago is representing New Zealand in an international challenge in Sri Lanka this month.

And Simon Gault will be there himself to see how he performs.

Shane Yardley, head chef at Bistro Lago at the Hilton Taupo, first worked for Simon Gault as a commie chef back in 1994. Then, after a stint in New Orleans and London, culminating as sous chef at Alain Ducasse’s renowned Spoon+ restaurant, he returned to Auckland to join his old boss. Shane worked first at Gault on George, then Euro and is now at Bistro Lago.

The old friends are to be part of a new chapter in gastronomy being written by family tea company Dilmah.

Dilhan Fernando, marketing manager of Dilmah Tea, says tea and food are old companions, but fine tea, mixology, cuisine, adventure and charity are an altogether new take on a traditional theme.

Shane will join selected chefs from Australia, Belgium, Chile, Czech Republic, India, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Netherlands, Poland and Sri Lanka. He has already sent his menus to Sri Lanka and they have been received enthusiastically. During the fortnight Shane will produce a hot and cold beverage, a four course dinner, a sorbet and a High Tea plate.

His dishes include roast green tea spiced king prawns accompanied by mango and coconut and a cinnamon tea and citrus crusted venison fillet, roasted courgettes and fennel served with cinnamon, juniper jus. His hot beverage is a special leaf tea sweetened with kiwi bush honey.

Shane, his fellow chefs and Simon will meet and learn about tea from the Teamaker – Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando. Then over the next 12 action packed days throughout Sri Lanka, they will experience real tea and craft tea inspired food and drinks using their culinary and mixology skills.

Simon Gault, who plans to write about the event when he returns to New Zealand, says he has been enjoying experimenting with tea and food.

“I am interested in tea and its similarity to wine in that it too has terroir – the geographical location influences everything about the tea including taste and colour,” Simon says.

As well as learning about tea at Dilmah’s School of Tea the chefs will share in the Dilmah philosophy – of making business a matter of human service. They will co-operate in producing a one of a kind Tea Culinary Experience at a Gourmet Dinner, with the objective of not only tantalizing palates, but also helping the underprivileged.

The International Tea Culinary Experience will be hosted by Dilmah Tea, the Hilton Colombo and the MJF Charitable Foundation. The objective of the evening, apart from celebrating tea and its relevance in gastronomy, is to fulfill the dreams of aspiring chefs in the North and East of Sri Lanka. In these areas which were, until recently, ravaged by 30 years of conflict, development was retarded by war and the hospitality sector is almost entirely absent.

The 12 Chefs will each host a table of 10 and the revenue from the event will be matched by the MJF Foundation and utilised to establish at least 25 culinary entrepreneurs in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Arugambay and Ampara.

The MJF Foundation was established by Merrill J Fernando to fulfill his pledge to make his business a matter of human service. The Foundation has successfully made entrepreneurs of underprivileged but talented people in Sri Lanka’s tsunami affected and other remote, underdeveloped areas. More than 475 businesses have been established in this way by the Foundation’s Small Entrepreneur Programme (SEP).

The culinary extension to the SEP will help instill hope in aspiring bakers, caterers, restaurateurs and stewards. The programme will evaluate potential recipients of assistance from among the poorest segments of society in each of the selected towns. The Foundation will then offer training and expert assistance to each recipient with the assistance of the Chefs Guild of Lanka and also provide equipment to help each start their small business.

The Chefs and the Teamaker adventure will include visits to Dilmah villas on the Ceylon Tea Trails in the heart of Ceylon Tea country, the remote and naturally beautiful Moneragala District, Tea Gardens, a Dilmah Ceylon Cinnamon (true Cinnamon) Estate and a Sri Lankan Elephant Conservation programme.

The chefs will use local herbs, spices and traditional ingredients in each location to produce tea inspired food and drinks using local terracotta and other implements.

The first Chefs and the Teamaker was held in 2008 to celebrate the 21st Anniversary of Dilmah. Eight exceptional Australian Chefs experienced the adventure of a lifetime in Sri Lanka. Their stories are featured on the Chefs and the Teamaker blog at http://chefsandtheteamaker.dilmahtea.com/

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