It has been such a privilege over the years to have worked with some of New Zealand’s most talented chefs as Beef + Lamb Ambassadors. These chefs are not your average TV celebrity chef, but to us they are culinary rock stars in their own right. They are not only skilled in the kitchen, crafting amazing dishes from New Zealand beef and lamb but most are running their own business, balancing multiple issues at any one time as well raising a family and trying to find the right work life balance.
It can be a difficult industry to be in and only those with a true passion for food will survive and make it work for them and their families. On top of running a business, dealing with staff issues, and sourcing the freshest produce, they are continually looking for inspiration and working on creating new dishes, experimenting with different foods and flavours and looking for ways to work more sustainably, all to create memorable dining experiences for their customers.
So with all this going on, what’s the big deal about joining Beef + Lamb New Zealand as an Ambassador Chef? Past Ambassadors say that it’s great to have the recognition that their beef and lamb dishes are strong enough to meet the high standard needed to receive the accolade. This is great for their business, however what is maybe even more important is they say it is a great way to connect with other chefs. It brings them into a community of like-minded people who share similar issues and beliefs on how they want to run their restaurants.
It opens up links to get to know farmers and processors better and learn more about the provenance of the product they are using. It sometimes offers unique opportunities to work alongside brands to showcase beef and lamb on the international stage and to help shape New Zealand’s own food story. It provides a network to connect with other chefs, farmers and industry leaders. It’s a wonderful way to boost confidence and to feel part of a strong community where chefs can bounce ideas off each other, share supply knowledge and just generally support each other. Chefs say it’s also a way to give back by imparting their knowledge to the younger generation of chefs coming through. We like to call it the ‘best culinary job club in New Zealand’ and it is certainly the oldest.
The Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef programme was originally created over 23 years ago as an off-shoot of the Beef + Lamb Excellence Awards (formerly known as the Hallmark of Excellence). The Awards were created to replace the lamb cuisine awards and to include beef which was feeling a little neglected. It took on quickly with chefs who wanted to be recognised for both their beef and lamb dishes and although it wasn’t a competition with one overall winner, it was clear that some of the chefs entering stood out above the others.
It was decided to recognise the stand-out chefs of the Awards, name them as Ambassadors and shine a light on their culinary excellence. They became the voices of Beef + Lamb New Zealand in a rapidly changing dining scene and among other things, were sent out into the rural community to ‘demonstrate to farmers wives how to cook beef and lamb’. Fast forward through the years and our Ambassador Chefs are now hosting collaboration dinners in their own restaurants, where the farmers attend to see their product at its final destination – on the plate!
Many of our Ambassador Chefs are from regional communities and the recognition which comes with their title shows they can easily go shoulder to shoulder with the big city restaurants. The accolade is not only great for their business, but is a wonderful way to showcase regional produce to customers.
We all love the beef and lamb our farmers are producing here in New Zealand, and we know they are working hard to keep their farming practices the best in the world. Our chefs recognise this and are curious to find out more of what goes on behind the farm gate so they can in turn tell this story to their customers through their food.
But perhaps the best feedback I have had from our Ambassador Chefs over the years is the comradery they feel by joining a group of New Zealand’s top chefs. With the recent addition of the Ambassador Series dinners to the Ambassador Chef programme, they are now collaborating in each other’s kitchens, stealing ideas and techniques from each other and impressing guests with their beef and lamb creations.
So if you are a chef who may be sitting on the fence wondering what all the fuss is about, then I encourage you to take that step and put yourself forward – you may just be surprised at what you could get out of being named as a 2020 Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef. Chefs apply here.