Jack Lee from Melbourne has been crowned Chef of the Year 2018, after three days of competition at Foodservice Australia.

The first-time entrant, soon to open his café Beansmuggler in Point Cook, took home the prestigious title as well as $6500 cash and prizes.

“I never expected to win against so many highly experienced chefs,” says Lee. “It was an incredible three days, I watched all the heats and learned so many new techniques.”

This year’s competition received 180 entries, which were whittled down to 32 finalists for the live cooking finals in Sydney. Lee was among four grand finalists, including Andrew Ballard from Simmer Culinary in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Naomi Lowry from Culina et Vinum in Sydney and Jason Martin from Locavore in the Hunter Valley.

Head judge John McFadden says the standard was high for this year’s competition.

“A high standard was set during the heats, and these benchmarks were raised in the finals,” he says. “It was a true indication of the professional calibre of all the candidates.

“Jack was very meticulous, methodical and most importantly stayed consistent throughout the final, where he showcased quality produce with restraint. His clinical and effortless kitchen work, paired with great flavours, presentation and balance, had him a good few points ahead of the field.”

Fellow judges included chefs Adam Moore, Nick Whitehouse, Karen Doyle (Le Cordon Bleu), Steve Belcher (Le Cordon Bleu), Claire Van Vuuren (Bloodwood and Popla), Julio Azzarello (Gourmand Providore) and Tony Panetta (ICC Sydney).

The Australian Professional Chef of the Year competition is one of the most rewarding in the country, with a total prize pool of $10,000. As the winner, Lee also received a study tour to Rivalea’s production farm in New South Wales from Australian Pork.

The next Australian Professional Chef of the Year will be held at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre from 23-25 June. Entries will open later this year.

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