Leslie Hottiaux: “I still want to create dishes that people will love and make my customers happy”

The young chef representing Pacific talks to us in this interview exclusive ahead of the Grand Finale.

Leslie Hottiaux was named the best young chef in Pacific region during the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 regional heat and she will now put her passion for cooking to the test at the Grand Finale in Milan under the guidance of mentor chef Peter Gilmore.

We spoke to her about her preparations on how she turned a passion into a profession.

My dish is unique because…
It is essentially a combination of two classic recipes that you don’t really see served together, a gnocchi and a tortellini. Very simply, this dish is all about the flavor and texture.

What are the main influences in your signature dish?
This dish is a culmination of my years of working in kitchens, and also of me trying to work with the best possible ingredients that I can find in New Zealand. Definitely there is an Italian influence in the creativity of the dish, but also a French Influence in terms of the flavor. The dish in my opinion is very understated in its appearance but there is actually quite a lot of technique involved.  

How are you collaborating with your S.Pellegrino Young Chef mentor in order to perfect your dish for the final?
As yet we haven’t had any contact but I expect to chat soon. I am really looking forward to working with Peter Gilmore, and any advice he can give to me in terms of improving my dish.

What led you to choosing a career in the kitchen?
Quite simply, I love food. I always enjoyed cooking at home but never thought of it as a career. At 14, I did a stage, and I was hooked. After that I enrolled in Catering School in Toulouse, France and have never really looked back form there.

Who has been a mentor to you throughout your career?
Have to say that Ben Bayly, my head chef at The Grove in Auckland has played a huge part in my mentoring. He is the best chef I have worked with, and I owe a lot of my knowledge and skill to him.

What are your professional ambitions?
To be honest, I have just opened my own restaurant, Apero Food & Wine with my partner in Auckland about 20 months ago, so definitely at this stage, my ambition is to make that as big a success as possible.

What’s the best dish you ever tasted? Where did you eat it and who cooked it?
In my first year in Auckland, I ate at Merediths Restaurant. One of Auckland’s finest, which is owned by the chef Michael Meredith. It was a quail dish. Seared Quail breast and confit leg, served with a coconut mousse, edamame beans, pumpkin puree and fresh enoki mushrooms, it was finished with like a peanut brittle. The dish was perfect, well balanced in terms of sweet and savoury, it had a brilliant balance of textures. Six years on, and this dish is still my favorite.

What is the most exciting/challenging element of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition for you?
The fact that I have never entered into a competition before, meant that the biggest challenge was going to be how I would compete. The most exciting is definitely having some amazing chefs eat your food. That was a huge honour for me in Melbourne, and all the better that they all loved it.

What will you do if you win the competition?
Not really sure, but given that I have my own restaurant, it will involve working hard at Apero. I still want to continue to push myself to create dishes that people will love and make my customers happy. Also, I just want to enjoy working in our restaurant that we have created and put so much love into.

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