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It is a day of first Impressions at Witt.
The hospitality team is geared up for a silver service lunch and in the kitchen Sam Stevens is waiting for orders.
He's standing at a bench laid out tidily with all the prepared ingredients for the ratatouille and Italian sausage pasta.
"You have to make sure that it's all ready, so that when you get an order in, the meal comes out in five minutes," Sam says.
The 17-year-old former Hawera High School student hasn't always wanted to be a chef - that calling has come in the last year.
"I just love cooking, it's as simple as that; nothing complicated," he says. "Most of my family are in hospitality."
His brother, Andrew, is a chef in London, sister Amy is a barista in Auckland and he has several cousins in the industry.
Earlier this month, Sam was second, by half a mark, in the Commis of the Year section of the Taranaki/Wanganui Hospitality Competitions, held at Witt.
In August, he will be competing in a City & Guilds team event in Auckland.
When he's not at Witt studying for the Certificate in Culinary Arts, Sam works at the Snug Lounge in New Plymouth.
Out in the Impressions restaurant, lunch service is in full swing.
Dressed in black trousers and shirts set off by white ties and aprons, the Certificate in Espresso, Bar and Restaurant students are buzzing around tables.
Alana Mayo, who won the Service Provider of the Year award at the regional competitions, takes orders with a smile.
The 19-year-old former Cambridge High School student says she chose the espresso bar and restaurant course because the skills taught are internationally recognised.
"If you have to travel around it is good experience to have," says Amy, who also works at Salt restaurant in New Plymouth.
She takes the writer's order - mushroom and leek soup - and chooses the pasta to test Sam's efforts. Dessert will be frangipane tart with seasonal fruit.
Chef tutor Angela Ferguson talks about the flavoursome soup ($7), which is served with a fresh mini baguette for dunking.
"Have plenty of your base ingredients in it so it's nice and thick and not watery."
She likes to blend her soup so it still has texture. "So you know there's mushroom and leek in it."
While this is a break from the traditional In Season, which generally focuses on a single fruit or vegetable, Angela says mushrooms are available all year round. The colourful ratatouille and Italian sausage pasta dish ($9.50) is also made from available vegetables - zucchini, eggplant and capsicum, plus crushed tomatoes. It arrives in a low but large white bowl, topped with freshly grated parmesan.
"With the night menu coming up soon, we make our own gnocchi and smoke our own tomatoes," she says, referring to the $30-a-head three-course mid- winter Christmas dinner coming up tomorrow and July 3.
Back to the Friday lunch, Angela says the pasta dish can be cooked to order as a vegetarian meal without the Italian sausage, and people could throw cubes of feta into the mixture if they wanted. "You could add anything you've got in the fridge. It would be a great left-over pasta dish," she says.
Her big tip is revealed in Sam's preparations: "Have everything ready to go."
For dessert, the winner is frangipane tart with mandarins and blackberries ($5) served with freshly whipped cream.
"Once you know how to make that frangipane mixture, you can do anything with it," she says, suggesting apple, apricots and tamarillos as possible fruits.
For the midwinter Christmas dinner menu, the students make chocolate and fruit mince frangipane tart with brandy anglaise.
"It's just divine and a bit of a twist on the whole Christmas theme."
Her advice for making these tarts is not to put too much frangipane mixture in them otherwise they overflow when baking, and to use store-bought sweet pastry if you don't want to make your own.
Best of all, come along to Impressions so the students can make a good one for you.
Ratatouille and Italian sausage pasta
400g fresh or cooked dry pasta of your choice
200g sliced Italian sausage (chorizo)
1 chilli (seeds removed and sliced, optional)
50ml olive oil
1 red onion
1 garlic clove
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
200ml crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated
Take onion, zucchini, eggplant, red pepper and green pepper and dice to the same size. Chop garlic.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pot and fry off the onion and garlic.
Add the remaining vegetables, put a lid on the pot and cook for about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables.
Add the tomatoes and brown sugar, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 more minutes.
Stir through some chopped herbs and set aside ready for final service.
Just before serving, fry the sausage and chilli in a little oil, and add the ratatouille mix to the pan.
Plunge the pasta into boiling salted water to reheat. Add the heated pasta to the sauce base and toss well.
Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
Frangipane Tart with Seasonal Fruit
Sweet short pastry
7 Tbsp caster sugar
1 egg beaten
2 Tbsp flour
65g almonds, ground
Fruit of your choice
Line desired moulds with sweet pastry, prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork and allow to rest.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Lightly cream the butter and sugar, gradually mix in the egg, beating well.
Mix flour and almonds together and add to rest of ingredients.
Three-quarters fill each pastry case with frangipane filling.
Lay your chosen fruit on top, bake in oven until tart filling is set and lightly golden.
Serve with a sauce of your choice and cream or icecream.
200g leeks (sliced)
1/3 cup flour
1 litre of chicken stock
200g button mushrooms (sliced)
Fry the sliced leek in the butter in a thick-bottomed pan without colouring.
Mix in the flour, cook over a gentle heat to a sandy texture, again without colouring.
Remove from the heat and cool slightly, gradually mix in the hot stock and stir to the boil.
Add the well washed chopped mushrooms, season and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim when necessary.
Liquidise or blend to the desired consistency.
Reboil, correct the seasoning if necessary and add the cream, reheating gently so it doesn't curdle.
Serve with your favourite crusty bread.
- © Fairfax NZ News