Entries are now open for Fonterra’s Proud to be a Chef 2024, Australia’s leading foodservice mentoring program which will give 32 aspiring apprentice chefs from all over the nation the chance to be part of a once in a lifetime culinary experience.

Over four days next February, the chosen finalists will fly to Melbourne for an unrivalled food adventure. The packed program includes trips to some of Australia’s most famous food inspired locations, masterclasses, skills workshops, and invaluable networking opportunities with peers, industry leaders, and program mentors.

The program culminates in one outstanding finalist being awarded a $7,500 culinary scholarship tailored to their individual aspirations as a professional chef, with further awards presented for best dishes and best use of social media during the program.

Each year the Proud to be a Chef resident mentor – Anchor™ Food Professionals Executive Chef Mark Normoyle – is joined by two guest mentors, sought out for their culinary skills, knowledge and, critically, their passion for the industry and shaping its future.

“Proud to be a Chef is such an amazing opportunity for apprentice chefs to step out of their everyday working life and truly focus on their personal development,” says Normoyle.

“This program is more than just an opportunity for participants to upskill themselves. At the core of this immersive experience is an opportunity for inspiration and connection.”

Normoyle builds on these sentiments noting that in his five years with Proud to be a Chef he has developed confidence in the program’s ability to deliver an experience that enflames a fresh passion for the industry and a newly inspired work ethic in the finalists, which they then take back to their place of employment.

“I always encourage head chefs, restaurateurs and business owners to support their apprentices’ personal and professional development by making them aware of the program and prompting them to apply. I see what we’re doing as investing in the future of our industry and building up the culinary leaders of tomorrow,” he says.

Formerly executive chef at Melbourne’s prestigious RACV City Club, followed by a stint running his own restaurant Luna’s at the beachside suburb of St Kilda, Normoyle draws upon his extensive experience in mentoring each year’s Proud to be a Chef finalists and takes a keen interest in their career progression.

“The networking opportunities that have come out of Proud to Be a Chef are truly amazing and we’ve had finalists get some incredible work opportunities as a result, including at top overseas restaurants,” Mark said.

Engagement and connection are at the heart of what the program aims to deliver and against this benchmark the Proud to be a Chef program is unrivalled in the culinary space.

Joane Yeoh, who started her pastry journey at LuxBite under head chef Bernard Chu, is 2024’s Pastry Mentor. Yeoh has held many acclaimed roles over the years with postings at Spice Temple, Rosetta, Press Club, and Tonka before landing the coveted role of head pastry chef at Coda, an industrial-chic restaurant nestled in one of Melbourne’s iconic laneways.

Alongside former head chef Chu, Yeoh founded Kori Ice Cream, Melbourne’s inner suburb sweet spot, which sees lines routinely extend out the door.

Yeoh pays tribute to the significance of good mentoring, noting the role Chu has played in helping her overcome several challenges in her life.

“I come from a very strict family, who always wanted me to get a degree, but there’s no pastry diploma you can apply for in Melbourne, so 11 years ago I went to LuxBite and told Bernard I wanted to be an apprentice,” she says.

Climbing up the rungs with Chu supporting the ladder, Yeoh has reached heights that many in the industry can only dream of. Her success has been predicated by discipline, hard work, curiosity and a deep gratitude for the opportunities she has carved out for herself and the people in her life that have helped steer her in the right direction.

Yeoh is already prepping for her Proud to be a Chef masterclass.

“There is a real art to plating desserts so that is something I want to showcase. Beyond that, I think as mentors our job is to help equip our finalists with the resilience they need to succeed in what is a really tough industry.

“It’s not as glamorous as you see on Masterchef – there will be tough times, but I believe as long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you have mentors you can go to, you can overcome anything the industry throws at you.”

Savoury mentor Stephen Nairn has worked at some of Melbourne’s top establishments including Vue de Monde, and Matilda and in recent years has launched three – Omnia Bistro & Bar in 2019, and Yugen Tea Bar and Yugen Dining in 2022.

Nairn’s sentiments capture a similar tone to his fellow guest mentor.

“The role of a mentor is super important when you’re in such a challenging industry. In the initial stages of a chef’s career it’s all about becoming technically proficient,” he says.

“Following this, chefs move towards roles that will demand more in regard to their ability to provide guidance and support. These roles often require an understanding of how to strategise and make decisions, which is this is where mentors can be a big help.

“I’ve had wonderful mentors in my time – people like Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan, Shannon Bennett at Vue de Monde and Scott Pickett at Matilda have played a big role in my career, and I still chat to them regularly,” he says.

“One of the things I’d like to impart to our finalists is the importance of organisation and execution – there’s a flow to working in the kitchen, and I’ll be trying to demonstrate time and motion management which is absolutely critical when you’re working at a high level.”

With over two decades experience in the industry, the Glasgow-born chef has refined his skills in a variety of kitchens across the globe.

“I was working at Eleven Madison Park in New York, then came to Australia to take on the Executive Chef role at Vue de Monde. I’ve pretty much held every position in the kitchen from apprentice through to commis chef, chef de partie, and sous chef – I’ve been fortunate enough to have created quite a few restaurants that have done well, and I’m still really passionate about the industry.”

With all this experience, Nairn shares his secret to finding success in the industry and despite all the challenges how he has maintained his love affair with food.

“I encourage all the apprentices who apply for the Proud to be a Chef program to look upon their journey through the industry as a marathon and not a sprint.

“As a youngster you really need to learn not just the foundations of cooking, but the importance of personal discipline if you want to have longevity,” he says.

Entries for Proud to Be a Chef 2024 are open until 11.59pm on 22 October 2023. To enter, applicants need to complete the online form, submit an original recipe using an Anchor™ Food Professionals product and answer questions about their career aspirations. Visit www.proudtobeachef.com for details.