Students aim for back-to-back Toque d’Or titles

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09 Aug 2019

The pans will be flaming hot, tables will be served and audiences will be captivated as New Zealand cookery students and trainees battle it out on August 12, to see who will take out the coveted title of Supreme Winner for Nestlé Toque d’Or 2019.

Nestlé Toque d’Or is a nationwide tough culinary and service challenge but the team of three from Ara, Corentin Esquenet (27), Anu Kashyap (24) and Ben Crean (20), are ready to step up to the plate.


(from left to right) Corentin Esquenet, Anu Kashyap and Ben Crean are well prepared to battle it out in Nestlé Toque d’Or 2019 and defend Ara’s title of Supreme Winner. 

“I like a bit of pressure,” says student chef Corentin Esquenet about the live kitchen cook-off.

“I’m quite excited to see some cameras and the audience and how much we can get done in such little time. We’re in it to win it; we’re only going for gold!”

Fellow chef Anu Kashyap is equally confident.

“We have done our best and our tutors support us really well. Hard work is the key for success- I think we’ll win, hopefully!”

Winning first place at Toque d’Or is no small feat and the national competition has proven to be the platform to shine a spotlight on emerging culinary and restaurant service superstars.

Last year the Ara team took out the competition and set the bar high for those to follow. One of the 2018 team, Chahna Davis is now working as Chef de Partie at Marcus in London (Marcus Wareing’s Michelin-starred restaurant).

This year’s trio have their sights set on similar success and have been training hard over the last four months to ensure they are in top form to defend the title.

A team of dedicated Hospitality staff headed by patisserie tutor Adele Hingston, Toque d’Or team Manager, has been guiding the students through an extensive training programme. Hingston designed the dessert and worked with cookery tutor Michael Andrew to refine the entrée and main course.

Heather Dyksma tutor, is the Toque d’Or Front of House Manager, assisted by tutor Susan Taylor- a wine specialist and Katrina Fisher a barista tutor.

“Our role as leaders is to mentor and build key foundations so the students believe anything is possible. Monday is their day to shine, remove themselves from their comfort zone and showcase Ara to their best ability.”

To succeed at Nestlé Toque d’Or each team must prepare six covers of a three-course menu within a set timeframe and impress a panel of top industry judges who will score their efforts against a strict World Chefs’ marking criteria.

“I’m looking forward to be able to show off my skills, do it properly and do it to a high standard,” says Ben Crean, front-of-house.

“Every single piece of salt I need to know. There’s 12 different chocolates in the dessert alone and there’s 15 pages of menus of things I need to know…I need to know everything about the wine, which vineyard it came from, the year, everything.”

NZChefs President Hughie Blues says the event will be a battle of the emerging culinary greats.

“We expect the intensity and quality of what’s created to be at an exceptionally high level. Members of these three teams will be the ones to watch, in terms of New Zealand’s next generation of culinary superstars.”

Ara, and its predecessors Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) and Aoraki Polytechnic, have won the annual competition fifteen and one time(s) respectively out of the twenty-seven times it has been held since 1991. The Institute last took home the first place title in 2018.

Toque d’Or will take place at NZMA in Mount Wellington, Auckland on Monday 12 August from 10.45 am, and will be live-streamed via the Nestlé Toque d’Or Facebook page. The other two teams competing are the New Zealand Defence Force and Otago Polytechnic.