"Truthful, lovely cooking". . . Sharpening his knife in the Fleurs Place kitchen is Lyall Minhinnick, who has been announced as a Beef + Lamb New Zealand young ambassador chef finalist for 2021. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

To Lyall Minhinnick, good cooking is all about gathering ingredients, learning their history, bringing them back to the kitchen, and putting the whole package together on a plate.

Mr Minhinnick, who has been working as a chef at Fleurs Place for two and a-half years, has been named a Beef + Lamb New Zealand young ambassador chef.

A chance encounter with Fleur Sullivan at her Moeraki restaurant, while dining there with his aunty, uncle and partner, resulted in a job for Mr Minhinnick.

Ms Sullivan asked them if they knew a chef or waitress looking for a job. the way he saw food.

Ms Sullivan taught him how to forage and use every single part of what was sourced.

“I could walk around here and come back with a salad and vegetables and put it on the menu by the end of the day.”

His talent was noticed by Beef + Lamb New Zealand brand ambassador Michael Coughlin, who asked if Mr Minhinnick would be interested in competing in the young ambassador chef competition.

“He saw what I was doing and saw that I loved cooking.”

To prepare for the competition, Mr Minhinnick and Ms Sullivan went to Totara Estate – the birthplace of New Zealand’s frozen meat industry. Learning about lamb’s history added a whole new depth to his competition dishes.

Allowed to forage in Totara Estate’s heritage garden, he used ingredients from that day to create his beef and lamb dishes for the competition.

“I love what I did for Fleur, I love what I did for myself and I loved the plates.

“I believe that was because it was truthful, lovely cooking.”

He was also passionate about making his food accessible.

At Fleurs Place, he aimed to make “soulful, yummy food” that would give diners good memories, something they could draw inspiration from and make themselves.

His ingredients and recipes were not unobtainable or reserved for exclusive circles, but were items that could be easily sourced and made using “simple, yummy techniques”.

He also hoped to inspire with his “story behind the plate”, encouraging young people who had similar backgrounds to him.

Mr Minhinnick’s father was not around when he was growing up and he left school at age 14 – a common thing do in the town he grew up in.

He had a few different jobs – including working at a gas station and picking lettuce – until he turned 16 and was old enough to start Manukau Polytech’s hospitality course.

“None of that excited me as much as getting into a kitchen and being around the chefs, and being around people I could relate to.

“It made me stay in the kitchen.”

Above all, he was rapt to get the chance to do what he loved, for the people he loved.

Mr Minhinnick and the other two finalists- Ashley Knudsen from No.7 Balmac in Dunedin and Sam Heaven from The Park Hyatt Hotel -will meet in Auckland for a live cook-off on March 22.

They will present their dishes to the 2021 Beef and Lamb ambassador chefs who will decide on a winner.