The nervous excitement was tangible as the fizzing finalists set up their kitchen spaces at the 2019 National Finals of the Rabobank Root to Tip cooking competition. After weeks of practice, 12 teams of primary school students from across New Zealand had travelled to Weltec in Wellington, to cook for some of New Zealand’s top food judges and try for the title at the 2019 Rabobank Root to Tip competition. A true masterclass of how to make the most of fresh New Zealand food, the Garden to Table-led contest, held at Weltec in Wellington on Friday 23rd August, was the chance for 12 teams of primary school students in Years 5 and 6 from the length and breadth of New Zealand to show what they could do with fresh, seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients, leaving little or no waste at the end.
Handmade ravioli, volcanic vege roast, butternut crisps, kumara “bangy burgers”, vegetable masala and fresh dumplings; apple bombs, creamy rhubarb and
kiwifruit ice cream, and self-saucing beetroot chocolate puddings were among the 24 dishes dreamed up by the primary school students who had travelled
from as far as Northland and Invercargill for the competition.
Judges Al Brown,Catherine Bell, Jacob Brown from Wellington’s The Larder and Rabobank Marketing and Communications manager Paul Cording, were treated to
an incredible standard of food, as dish after dish of mouth-watering plates were brought for them to taste and score. After several lively discussions
around textures, flavours, seasonality and creativity, the judges had the unenviable job of picking a winning team. It came down to half a point in
the end, with Tsion Medhane and Rebecca Zhu, from Holy Cross School in Wellington, named as the winners. Head judge Al described their dishes, Cheesy
Green Risotto, followed by Creamy Rhubarb and Kiwifruit Ice Cream with a hint of Lemon, as ‘fantastic’.
“We had our work cut out for us picking a winner this year,” says Al Brown. “There were two other teams – Hawea Flat School in Otago, and Te Mata School
in Hawke’s Bay, who both came within half a point of the winners, but we simply couldn’t fault that risotto. They also used every part of the produce,
from stems to leaves, which is what this competition is about.” Al says it’s time New Zealanders stopped thinking that only certain parts of the
product are ‘the best’ bits – the tips of the broccoli, the rack from the lamb. Because in doing so, we’re missing out on some amazing flavours.
“To me, the inside of a broccoli stem is the best bit!” he says. “That’s what Garden to Table is about, and that’s why I like it so much – it’s about teaching
kids an understanding of where food comes from; creating, growing and harvesting what they cook, and eating together around a table. It’s a great alternative
way to learn, too; I struggled in a traditional classroom with studies like maths equations, but if I was given a 1kg pumpkin and told to divide it
into four – that made a lot more sense to me. It’s a different way of learning.”
Since winning the regional heats earlier this month, the teams from across New Zealand have been practicing their dishes every chance they got – and their
dedication was clear. “Technically, some of the dishes we saw today were incredible for kids as young as nine,” says judge Jacob Brown. “I found it
really inspirational. We’re a community-based restaurant, and seeing this competition has given me the drive to go back to my own community to see
if we can make that connection with the restaurant.”