Taranaki's friendly people and peaceful atmosphere are the right ingredients for trainee chef Nickolas Han.
The South Korean native is heading to Melbourne next year to represent New Zealand in an Australasian cooking competition.
Currently completing a chef apprenticeship at Pacific International Hotel Management School, Han is one of four Kiwi finalists who will compete for a $7500 prize in the Fonterra 'Proud To Be A Chef' master class finals in Australia.
He made the finals by beating six other contestants in the semifinals in Auckland last week.
Forty people sent applications for the event, with just 10 selected.
The semifinals required contestants to demonstrate their knife skills, make a classic three-egg omelette and then whip up a creation of their own, containing a Fonterra product, all within a two-hour time frame.
The event got off to a shaky start for Han when he realised basic kitchen equipment was not supplied and he had forgotten a whisk, but in the end his poached pear with Kikorangi cheese and cardamom mousse saved the day.
He said he was influenced by local ingredients and the chefs he worked with.
"I love New Zealand blue cheese, it's always quite good with pear, then with cardamom, Indian spice, it goes really well together."
Taranaki was a good place to learn the trade, he said.
"I've been to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch. It's too busy, but here is so peaceful, especially the people are friendly and good to me."
It still had not sunk in that he was going to represent New Zealand, Han said.
"My goal is to be a winner from the final competition. For the last three years all winners have been from Australia, I want to make it from Taranaki, New Zealand."
Han studied Applied Microbiology in South Korea then started at an Italian restaurant as a kitchenhand and realised he needed a change of direction.
He completed a four-month course at Pihms in 2009 and got a job in the kitchen.
He said his peers took a while to get used to the heat of his Korean dishes.
"When I first made spicy food people were like 'phew!' It's like, burning their ass."
Han credited his culinary prowess to his mentors at Pihms.
"We have three Kiwi chefs, an Indian and a German chef.
"I'm learning from all different countries, all different skills.
"Two weeks ago we had Diwali day and got a proper tandoor oven. I made proper naan, not products from Countdown."
And should he take out the $7500 International Culinary Scholarship, Han has his sights set on Las Vegas.
"There's a lot of flash hotels and I'll go there and expand my knowledge.
"My long-term goal is to be a man full of knowledge and experience and respected in the industry."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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