The annual Food Fight is the signature event on Hunter Culinary Association's calendar - and by far the most fun.
Hosts Colin Fassnidge and Matt Kemp love a bit of banter and their verbal sparring is always amusing. There's also an entertaining auction that takes place on the day to raise money for the Brett Graham Scholarship and other apprentice mentoring programs.
But the fun stops at the kitchen. This is a competition and reputations are at stake.
The four gun chefs going head-to-head on June 28 at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley are: Mitchell Beswick (Muse Restaurant); Alex Prichard (Icebergs Dining Room and Bar); Sam Alexander (Yellow Billy Restaurant); and Andrew Wandless (Una Ms - Coogee Pavilion).
Each chef will prepare one lunch course which will be matched with a premium Hunter Valley wine. Guests will vote for their preferred dish at the conclusion of the lunch.
Let's meet the chefs.
Mitch Beswick started his career at the age of 15 at Spanish restaurant Pimento in Paddington, moving on to Nick's Seafood restaurant in Darling Harbour, Salsa Bar and Grill Port Douglas, Longrain Restaurant, Ravesis Bondi and Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island. Relocating to the Hunter Valley, he was sous chef at Rock Restaurant and head chef at Leaves and Fishes and Black Creek Farm. He is now head chef at the two-hatted Muse Restaurant.
Sam Alexander, a Broke local, started out at Nightingale Wines followed by stints at The Golden Door Health Retreat, Fins of Byron Bay and Bistro Molines. He worked with the Icebergs and Merivale groups and at Newcastle's Reserve before opening his first restaurant in 2018: Yellow Billy, back home in the Hunter Valley.
Andrew Wandless hails from Penrith and started his career at the age of 19, holding apprenticeships at restaurants within the Bayfield's Hotels Group, including the historic Newport Arms Hotel. He moved to London in 2009 to work as commis chef at Rhodes 24, followed by Mayfair's two Michelin-starred Hibiscus and two Michelin-starred The Ledbury. After stints at Clapham venue The Dairy and Fera at Claridge's he joined Texture in 2014 as head chef. Returning to Australia, he took on the head chef role at Una Ms, one of the latest additions to the middle floor of Coogee Pavilion.
Last but not least is Alex Prichard, originally of Kurrajong, who has worked with some of the best chefs in the world. He is a lover of native produce and celebrates small growers and producers, honing on in the importance of origin. He is now head chef at the iconic Icebergs Dining Room & Bar.
Hunter Culinary Association chair Gus Maher says the 11th annual Food Fight on June 28 is a welcome return to the region's culinary calendar. Last year's event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Each of these talented chefs have earned their stripes at some of the world's most prestigious restaurants, so guests will be dining at an incredibly high standard," he said.
"The Food Fight and its signature auction raises money for a range of apprentice support and mentoring opportunities, including the Brett Graham Scholarship, which is a long-term partnership between the HCA and TAFE NSW."
The 2021 Food Fight is on Monday, June 28, at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, Pokolbin. Tickets cost $175 (HCA members), $195 (non-members) and $90 (apprentice chefs). To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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