Leading Christchurch chef and entrepreneur Darren Wright, has been named Chief Judge of the prestigious Nestlè Toque d’Or student culinary competition.

A former floor judge for the competition and member of the New Zealand Culinary Team, Darren sees the competition as an ideal launching pad for culinary students to begin successful careers in the hospitality industry.

“Nestlè Toque d’Or encourages and inspires excellence in the students. Through the competition, students have the opportunity to pit their skills against other top young chefs and restaurant service students from around the country.

“Competitors are given the chance to learn from the best. They spend quality one on one time with their tutor, an extremely experienced culinary professional. They need to use this time wisely and always be ready to learn,” Darren said.

A born and bred Cantabrian, Darren trained as a chef at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) which is a regular competitor at Nestlè Toque d’Or.  In the competition’s 20 year history in New Zealand, CPIT has taken home top honours 13 times.  This year, the Institute will make a welcome return to the competition floor after students were unable to compete last year due to the earthquakes.

Darren’s career included a stint at the Christchurch Park Royal, before opening and running his own restaurant in his home town of Akaroa for over 10 years, with wife Leanne. The award-winning Harbour 71 was a well-known destination for foodies across the country and further afield.

Despite the Christchurch earthquakes temporarily halting Darren’s plans to open another restaurant in the city, he remains committed to launching a new venture before Christmas this year.

Darren’s advice to students preparing to compete at Nestlè Toque d’Or in August is to practice, practice and practice.

“You really can’t practice enough. Getting the details right is crucial to a successful result. Students need to know their dishes and how to get them to their very best. They need to know the processes to follow to get excellent results because at Nestlè Toque d’Or we’re looking for the best,” he said.

“The competition environment can be nerve-wrecking like a real kitchen, but my advice to the competitors is to practice as much as they can and then they’ll be able to relax and enjoy the experience.”

Darren will take centre stage at the 2012 Nestlè Toque d’Or when he leads a panel of 16 of the country’s leading chefs and culinary professionals. He along with the other judges will be responsible for assessing the abilities of the student teams representing 12 culinary schools from around New Zealand, as they prepare and present six covers of a three course meal in the live kitchen cook off.

Darren said he is thrilled to have a key role in the competition and is looking forward to seeing how the students respond to the pressure of competing in such a hard fought culinary battle.

“Nestlè Toque d’Or is the premier culinary competition for culinary students and it’s a real buzz to see them rising to the occasion – striving for excellence,” he said.

“It is inspiring to see the depth of talent a small country can produce. The young people that participate in the competition do so with the knowledge that they are the emerging stars in the industry.

“Only the top students at each culinary school come to compete at Nestlè Toque d’Or, we’re seeing the best of the best – that’s exciting.”

Nestlé Toque d’Or Event Manager and President of the New Zealand Chefs Association, Anita Sarginson, said Darren’s wide range of experience and knowledge made him the ideal choice for Chief Judge.

“Darren is a highly successful chef whose expertise is widely sought after both in New Zealand and overseas. He has successfully competed on the international stage and regularly mentors young up-and-coming chefs.”

She said for the competing students, the event provides an ideal forum for them to test their skills and expertise against other top competitors.

“This competition is synonymous with forging the pursuit of excellence within our industry. Young chefs are continually raising the bar, demonstrating skills above those currently being displayed in the industry.”

This year’s Nestlè Toque d’Or competition will take place on Monday 20 August at the ASB Auckland Showgrounds. Nestlé Professional is the main sponsor of the event, other sponsors include: Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Akaroa Salmon, vegetables.co.nz and House of Knives.

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