KEEPING calm under pressure is chef Stefenpon Sitinjak’s specialty.
So much so it won the Invercargill man The Lee Kum Kee Developing Chefs Challenge 2020 earlier this month.
Originally from Indonesia, The Ascot Park Hotel demi chef used his years of experience growing up around cooking with his family to take out the title in Auckland on October 12 against five other finalists.
“I started cooking at 5 years old and used to help my uncle at his authentic, Indonesian restaurant growing up.
“All my siblings can cook, even my niece and she’s only 4.”
With the competition in its second year running, 15 aspiring chefs entered a Chinese or Chinese-inspired dish by email and video, using a minimum of three Lee Kum Kee sauces or condiments and a main ingredient of beef, lamb, pork, chicken, salmon or vegetables.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was an unusual affair with judges critiquing based on technique, use of ingredients and the aesthetics of the dish, Mr Sitinjak said.
It was his nasi uduk, chicken and mushroom steam rice, with red eggs, prawn, pork, caramelised soy sauce and calamansi sauce which won over the hearts and stomachs of the judges.
“Any food is my favourite but Indonesian cuisine is what I love to cook.
“I’m an ambassador for my country, I know the taste, the feel, the flavour of the food [best].”
One of six people who qualified for the finals in Auckland, he was up against several head chefs.
“I am very calm when I’m cooking… I try to manage my stress practise makes perfect.”
When he was announced the winner, the biggest emotion he felt was gratitude, Mr Sitinjak said.
Winning a $3000 cash prize and a year-long ambassadorial role, he would now go on to represent New Zealand at the Lee Kum Kee International Young Chinese Culinary Chefs Competition in Hong Kong in September next year.
In the lead-up to the big event, he planned to keep practising with his tutor at the Southern Institute of Technology to perfect the dish and work on his plating style.
As for the future, he had hopes of one day stepping into the judge’s shoes.
“Now I know the standard, I want to take it to the next level.”