One of Narrandera’s own has won the opportunity to represent the Riverina and NSW at the National WorldSkills Australia competition.
Trent Light, who is currently working as a chef at the Charles Sturt Hotel, won the regional section of WorldSkills Australia.
“To get the ball rolling, you compete regionally,” Mr Light said. “So I put my name forward to compete and we went down to Albury. That’s where the first regional competition was held for all the chefs. Anyone can come forward and compete.”
WorldSkills Australia aims to promote vocational training and both encourage excellence among tradies and promote the worth of vocational training to the public.
“WorldSkills covers nearly all trades, really. From chefs right through to builders, hairdressers, hair and beauty – every trade you can think of,” Mr Light said.
The competition in Albury was extremely difficult.
“We had a few days beforehand to come with ideas and menus, so we knew what we were doing. We had certain criteria; there were certain ingredients we had to use and certain elements of a dish that we had to create, but other than that everything was up to us.
“I think it was about six hours consecutive cooking all up and then we had to plate up two dishes to three judges on the day,” Mr Light said. “We cooked our dishes, everything went to plan. The first element I started cooking I did kind of go upside-down and it didn’t work and I had to remake that very quickly and get myself back in the game. But after that everything went smoothly.”
“Everything went on time – we had time limits for when we had to serve the dishes up and have them on the table.”
The dishes were graded by three judges, some of whom were former WorldSkills competitors. The winners were announced formally in Wagga a few weeks after the judging.
“I went over to Wagga for the presentation night knowing that I was in the top three. On the presentation night they give a gold, silver and bronze. I was fortunate enough to get gold, so I was really excited that night,” Mr Light said.
His achievement is all the more remarkable given that he has not yet finished his apprenticeship.
As the regional winner, Mr Light will now go on to compete at the 2018 Skills Show Australia at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour next June.
“Now what happens is there’s a regional team that’s put together; all the gold medallists from the night. There’s me, there’s someone in hair, we’ve got a builder, and electrician – there’s six of us all up.
“We become a team; we travel down to Sydney and represent NSW and this region nationally, against all Australians. The competition is over three days with presentations on the fourth day. They pretty much transform that whole building into different sections. You’ll have all the chefs; we all get our own little kitchen each. But right next to us there might be the mechanics with a car. It’s like a trade show, but a competition. It’s on a massive scale,” Mr Light said.
Like any competition, there’s plenty of room to practice.
“We have two team leaders, and they keep us on track. They give us training plans, and then we have mentors. I’ve already got four mentors; one of them is my teacher from Wagga, one of them is a French-trained pastry chef from Sydney, so he’s really keen to come down and do some work with me in regard to pastries.
“One of the chefs that came second at the internationals last year, she’s really keen to come on board and help me – she’ll tell me what to expect as well, because at the moment I’m kind of – it’s that fear of the unknown. She’s been through exactly what I’ll go through,” Mr Light said.
Arguably, the chefs have one of the harder trades to excel in. Food is notoriously subjective; one man’s chicken parmie is another man’s Poulet Basquaise.
“I was only thinking about that the other day. If you’re going to build a house there’s only a certain way to build a house,” Mr Light said. “Being a chef is hard. Competing as a chef is just going to the next level, because there is the unknown, and so many things can happen. So many things can go wrong.
“Presentation is massive at this competition as well. With the amount of judges they’ll have, making your food look good is key.
“But I think at the end of the day, it really does come down to technique. If you do have technique, you can kind of get yourself out of anything,” Mr Light said.