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Team effort . . . Cucina owners Yanina and Pablo Tacchini are thrilled their Oamaru restaurant has been awarded a chef's ‘‘hat’' in this year's Cuisine Good Food Awards. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

Cucina has won a coveted chef’s ‘‘hat’’ in New Zealand’s premier restaurant awards.

The Oamaru restaurant was praised by Cuisine Good Food Awards judges, who described it as being ‘‘big-hearted, fearless and fiery’’ and gave it a score of 16 out of 20 to be awarded one ‘‘hat’’.

The honour was revealed at a digital awards ceremony on Tuesday night.

After years of hard work, Cucina owners Yanina and Pablo Tacchini were thrilled to become a ‘‘hatted’’ restaurant for the first time, after being named ‘‘one to watch’’ at the 2019 awards.

They watched the live-stream of the awards from home, while staff kept an eye on the results from a screen in the kitchen.

Everyone erupted in cheers when Cucina was awarded a hat, and Mr and Mrs Tacchini went to the restaurant to celebrate with staff and diners.

The judges, who visited Cucina anonymously, said the restaurant reflected Mr and Mrs Tacchini’s Argentinian, Italian and Spanish heritage and was ‘‘a tribute to their passion for supporting local businesses and delivering food that is made with a great deal of love’’.

The couple employs about 30 staff across their two Oamaru restaurants, Cucina and Del Mar, and cafe, Tees St. The win was a reward for their team’s hard work, commitment and dedication, Mrs Tacchini said.

‘‘It’s all been a team effort for us,’’ she said.

‘‘For all of them, they’re just stoked. It’s a great thing.’’

Becoming a hatted restaurant was great publicity for Cucina and the Waitaki district — ‘‘we cannot ask for anything better’’ — and a boost for Mr and Mrs Tacchini after a tough few months.

Mrs Tacchini’s father died in December, and due to border restrictions, she had not been able to travel home to Argentina to farewell him and be with her family. But the challenges of managing two restaurants and a cafe during a pandemic had actually been a blessing, she said.

‘‘It kept me sane because, you know, I can’t go home, I can’t see my family, we can’t travel anywhere.

‘‘For me, it’s been a good challenge to constantly keep the standards up and also problem solving.’’

The Cuisine award recognition had given her a renewed sense of purpose — and it was important to ensure Cucina’s standards remained high, she said.

The restaurant had been quieter than normal over the summer holiday period, and at the Red traffic light setting. But while they did not have the usual influx of travellers, support from locals remained strong, and Mr and Mrs Tacchini had been overwhelmed by all of their congratulatory messages this week.

‘‘Our locals, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,’’ she said.
‘‘The last two years, supporting local is the only thing that’s kept us, all of us, [going].’’

Mr and Mr Tacchini have owned Cucina since 2016,

Fleurs Place and Riverstone Kitchen were also recognised in the Cuisine awards as ‘‘ones to watch’’, a list of restaurants that ‘‘demonstrate a high standard and are definitely worth a visit’’.