Tonight, the winners of the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence Awards were announced at a gala celebration at Sydney’s Salt Meats Cheese, which saw Melbourne’s Jake Kellie of Estelle Bistro claim Electrolux Australian Young Chef of the Year.

In one of Australia’s most competitive industries, what distinguishes those at the top? We spoke to three of the judges about how they chose the winners for this year’s 10th anniversary event.

Electrolux Australian Young Chef 2015
Winner: Jake Kellie from Estelle Bistro, Victoria
Runner Up: Aaron Starling from Bistro Guillaume, Victoria

Renowned chef and Thai food specialist David Thompson is clear on what distinguishes a winner. “It’s the same qualities that make people stand out no matter what: the diligence, the application the persistence, the style, the skills.

Thompson says you can always pick an Australian chef. “It’s the presentation, the boldness and simplicity of ingredients. There’s an immediacy, where technique doesn’t intrude upon on taste.” He sees all this in Kellie: “He knows exactly what he wants to do, and articulates it cleverly and precisely.”

Electrolux Australian Young Restaurateur 2015
Dual winners: Bianca Welsh from Stillwater Restaurant and Black Cow Bistro in Launceston, TAS Chris Thornton from Restaurant Mason in Newcastle, NSW

In picking this year’s winner, chef, food writer and presenter Christine Manfield points out that those at the top of their game “need to understand every detail of the business, regardless of their own background. That confidence, knowing exactly what’s involved, quickly separates the best.”

“You sense the passion that they have, but it’s also about what they’re doing to give their staff incentive and work with the industry,” Manfield says of Welsh and Thornton. She believes that the networking opportunities offered by the prize give restaurateurs, especially those in regional areas, the chance to “get their voices heard”.

“You can feel isolated. This is a chance to rub shoulders with everyone in the industry, to talk shop and realise ‘It’s not just us’ when you’re going through certain challenges.”

Electrolux Australian Young Waiter 2015
Winner: Brooke Adey from Bentley Restaurant & Bar, New South Wales
Runner Up: Louise Naimo from Estelle Bistro, Victoria

Danielle Gjestland of Wasabi in Noosa won the Young Restaurateur category in 2009 and is enthusiastic about what the awards can do for a budding hospitality career. “You have dialogue with like-minded young professionals, and it’s inspiring – we learn enormously from each other.” It’s about working with the challenges of a competitive industry. “We struggle a bit with having a collective voice even though we all work towards the same goal.” Which is, quite simply, service.

Gjestland says that Adey shows, “Something to aspire to.” This year’s winner exemplifies the idea that waiters should be fundamentally hospitable people. “It’s understanding that to be generous and gracious and kind doesn’t cost you much, but it makes an enormous difference to a person’s experience. It’s that instinct – being able to give.”

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