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Apprentice chef Nick Gnafakis a national winner

Nickolas Gnafakis standing beside his award and wearing a medal around his neck
Nick Gnafakis wins Aus-TAFE Culinary Competition State Final

Melbourne Polytechnic student Nick Gnafakis won the National Apprentice Cookery Competition by cooking up a storm in Canberra this month.

To get there, Nick won best third-year apprentice in the Victorian state final (Australian TAFE Culinary Trophy), which was hosted by Melbourne Polytechnic in September.

Nick, who has just completed his Certificate III in Commercial Cookery studies, describes the competition as a two-hour test of chef skills.

Contestants are given a brief beforehand, then the timer starts ticking. To win the national trophy, Nick had to produce three dishes – a vegetarian entrée, main using pork scotch fillet and dessert using golden syrup.

Three-course stunner 

First he served up harissa-roasted cauliflower with chick peas, on a bed of tahini yogurt with some sumac, nigella and parsley oil.

For main, ‘I did saltimbocca, like a remix, then I did a truffle spätzle (German noodle) cake, like a mac and cheese, it was very nice actually, served with asparagus, walnut and sauce.

‘Dessert we had to use golden syrup, which threw me off a little bit actually because it wasn’t my first preference, so I did a passionfruit cheesecake with spiced pineapple and golden syrup topping with a dark chocolate crumb and fresh passionfruit.’

Nick competed as a second-year last year and made it to the state level, which he says was great preparation for this year.

He currently works at the prestigious Rockpool Bar & Grill at Crown - ‘where you always see someone famous walking in, so that’s pretty cool’.

He worked at a local café to start with, then a wood-fired pizzeria.

‘I think it was a good move to see different things and work under different chefs,’ he says.

Nick found his calling

He started out wanting to study dietetics and nutrition, then tried osteopathy.

‘I took half a year off, worked part-time, did some travelling, and when I got back I stumbled across the café job and decided I’d give it a go. The more I did it the more I liked it.’

He chose to study at Melbourne Polytechnic, simply because it was the closest one to his home.

‘I have enjoyed being there, it’s more one on one and smaller from what I’ve heard of other TAFEs,’ Nick says.

‘I’ve dealt with some good chef teachers and I’ve learned under not too much pressure which is a good break from work. At the same time they add pressure when you need it, like in certain classes and during the restaurant practicals.

‘The teachers were great, especially during the competition process they were very supportive and helpful.’

And Melbourne Polytechnic’s hospitality department is proud of his achievements.

Support through mentoring

Manager of Hospitality Gary Paterson says: ‘Nick’s definitely applied himself, he’s always been keen to get into competitions and learned a lot from the competitions, this time around he really knuckled down, practised a lot more, knew what he was going to do, knew the nature of the competition and he’s executed all those things really well.

‘We’ve taken out some of the prestigious awards and we’ve had competitors at the highest level across most competitions.

‘We fully support the growth of our apprentices through mentoring, we have a number of teachers who mentor different types of competitions and that’s allowed us greater exposure for our apprentices to get involved.’

Piece of cake 

Nick’s not done with studying yet, he’s currently working towards a Certificate III in Patisserie, a natural extension of his commercial cookery studies and current work.

‘I’ve really loved this side of it, I’m in the patisserie section at work, I really enjoy that,’ he says.

So where does Nick see himself in the future? ‘In five years’ time hopefully somewhere exotic, somewhere where there’s a lot of paddock to plate, I’m really into it, where you have a garden and then you use it in the restaurant’.

Later ‘hopefully I would have done a bit of travelling, working holidays overseas, it’s a goal of mine to do some overseas work, just getting as much experience as possible.

‘I’d like to be in a more senior position in a place where I could have an impact.’

To find out more on commercial cookery courses, click here. 

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image of Jakeb Jesser holding trophy

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