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Toora pub chefs in Victorian team at world congress

Toora’s Royal Standard Hotel chef Darcy Nicoll and second-year apprentice Jesse Payne are members of the Australian Culinary Federation’s Victorian Young Chefs team heading to the Worldchefs Congress & Expo in Singapore in October, 2024.

Along with six more young chefs and two mentors, Darcy and Jesse will join well over 5000 food service and industry professionals from more than 100 countries across five continents for the six days of the Worldchefs Congress & Expo.

Going to Singapore will be Jesse’s first trip overseas, while Darcy thoroughly enjoyed being one of the Victorian Young Chefs who took part in the Worldchefs Congress & Expo conducted in Abu Dhabi in 2022.

“It’s so exciting that two people who work in the pub of a small Victorian country town will be at a biennial international chefs’ conference, which has been running since 1928 and held in 39 different cities,” Darcy said.

“It’s amazing how much you learn at the Worldchefs Congress, and as for the quality, standard and diversity of the food you get to try … !

“As well as all of the eating, there’ll be demonstrations by leading chefs; international speakers; workshops by industry experts, educators’ and young chefs’ forums, a global culinary competition, and the international trade expo, too.”

“I feel extremely lucky to be going to Worldchefs with Darcy, and I can hardly wait!” Jesse said.

“We’ve just received our plane tickets, where we’re staying is booked, we’ve paid for our Congress tickets, and now all we have to do is wait until the day we fly to Singapore comes around.”

In order to get to the Congress, the Victorian Young Chefs were required to work as a team to raise enough funds to cover their airfares and accommodation costs by devising, preparing and cooking a series of special “restaurant takeover” dinners.

Darcy has been an active and involved member of the Victorian Young Chefs for the past six years after joining during her apprenticeship, and Jesse became a member a year ago. 

“The  VYC’s Worldchefs 2024 team literally took over and cooked full dinner services at some wonderful places during the past six months, with a lot of the ingredients and raffle prizes donated to us by local businesses and growers,” Darcy said.

“We were at the Japanese restaurant Kura Robata and Saki in East Brunswick in November last year, then at Hogget Kitchen in Warragul in February, and the William Angliss Institute of TAFE in Melbourne in April,” she said.

“Everyone in the team is so grateful to the owners, operators and chefs of these restaurants for all of their support and encouragement and welcoming us to their venues for our fundraisers.”

“Thank you, too, to our fantastic sponsors and to those who bought tickets to our dinners; we appreciate your kindness so much,” Jesse said.

“There’s been heaps of hard work but also a lot of fun while aiming towards the Worldchefs Congress, and I know I’ve certainly learned a lot during the process.”

Darcy hails from Fish Creek and has been a fully-qualified chef since 2019.

She began her career in cookery at the Fish Creek Hotel while studying at TAFE Gippsland at Morwell and completed her apprenticeship at the Royal Standard.

Jesse lives in Toora and started her apprenticeship with the guidance of chef Hannah Clavarino at Prom Country Aged Care’s residential facility Prom County House in Foster, before transferring to the Toora pub.

Now, in her turn, Jesse attends TAFE Gippsland in Morwell each Tuesday, willingly works as many shifts as she’s offered at the pub, and practises her cooking skills whenever she’s home, such as making cakes for friends’ birthdays.

“I’m glad to be working with Jesse, because she’s so enthusiastic about food!” Darcy said, prompting Jesse to exclaim, “I just love it!”

The amount of consistent planning and effort required to provision and prepare for, cook, serve and clean up after lunch and dinner for an often unspecified number of people that can range from under a dozen to 80 or 100 and more is remarkable.

On some of the nights during the recent Easter holidays, Darcy, Jesse and their kitchen colleagues catered for up to 160 diners seated in the bistro, at the bar and in the beer garden of the landmark Toora pub.

Two are usually rostered on for luncheon service, with three or four kitchen staff members on duty at dinner time.

The fare at the Royal Standard has been described as “fabulous, hearty real food”, and the kitchen strives to incorporate as much fresh local produce, along with a broad choice, into the menu as possible.

Darcy said “I adore native Australian foods, especially wattleseed, because of the amount of diversity to be found in the one ingredient, from savoury to sweet.

“I love working with kangaroo as well, which I serve with a wattleseed jus,” she said.

“Then, for dessert, there might be a wattleseed panna cotta with a coffee tuile!”

Jesse’s passions include baking, and “classical Italian food, anything with a tomato base, fresh herbs and rich flavours.”On the specials board in the Toora pub’s bistro and filling the kitchen with their respective aromas on the day The Mirror visited were osso buco in a red wine braise; chicken Maryland with brie over smashed chats and Dutch carrots, and buffalo cauliflower bites. Yummo.


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