IT was hot in the Tamworth TAFE NSW kitchen as chefs madly tried to cook their way to the top.
Six teams of two battled it out in the kitchen to win the Nestle Golden Chef Hat regional qualifier, but it was Coffs Harbour duo Siobhan McCowat and Owen Cootes from Velvets Restaurant at Two Tails Winery who took out the gold medal.
Nestle corporate chef Nick Walters had the tough job of tasting perfectly cooked lamb rump, mushroom arancini and spice-infused panna cotta.
"This competition has been running for more than 50 years now," he said.
"Presentation and taste are the two biggest things; that's what you're paying for as a customer. Us judges are the customer and that's exactly what we're looking for, along with creative flair and a good use of time in the kitchen."
Chefs were judged on their mise en place - in a professional kitchen it's how chefs prepare their dishes and ingredients before the start of service.
There's an element of common sense that comes into it, with the competitors expected to start the hardest and most time-consuming elements of their dish first.
Each team created a unique menu with an entree, main and dessert,and had to incorporate five Nestle ingredients.
Harley Sutherland has been a chef in Tamworth for just more than a year and took part on Tuesday.
He started the competition with an chocolate orange-infused mousse, delicately segmenting each piece for both flavour and presentation.
"I've always loved food since growing up and wanted to become a chef," he said ahead of the contest.
"I want to travel around the world when I become qualified and experience more. I'm feeling pretty confident.
"What I'm nervous about is, with the mousse, how to infuse it with chocolate. I don't really know how to do that, but I'm going to give it a go."
Entrants had to be under 25 and work in the service industry.
The overall winners will be awarded a $15,000 trip to North America with Nestle's executive chef Mark Clayton, along with spending money.
The chefs were judged on personal presentation, the set-up of the work station, hygiene, technical skills, wastage, methods of preparation, time management and service.
Previous winners went to Italy to eat at one of the top restaurants and gain work experience in its kitchen.