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Alec Stemmler and Liberty Smith are celebrating after returning to Cairns with medals they claimed at a prestigious international cookery competition in China.

Alec and Liberty represented their training organisation TAFE Queensland, their employer Shangri-La Cairns and mentor organisation the Australian Culinary Federation at the 2019 International Young Chefs’ Challenge (IYCC).

Liberty, a third year apprentice, said never in her wildest dreams did she imagine her training would involve a trip to China.

“Absolutely not, I thought I would just be cooking and learning in Cairns,” Liberty said.

Despite months of practice, Liberty said things did not go according to plan when the cook-off started in China.

“We had to source all of our own ingredients for the competition but we couldn’t find what we needed, so Alec and I both had to create new menus,” Liberty said.

“It was stressful to develop new recipes that I’d never practised making before and that I’d never even tasted, I didn’t know how the flavours would turn out," she continued.

“In the end I’m really proud of how well Alec and I did cooking together to get a bronze medal."

“I also claimed another bronze for a duck dish I created during the solo farm to plate competition.”

Alec, a commis chef, said it was a great experience to compete with Liberty in the Two to Tango competition, a live hot kitchen section of the event.

“For entrée we served confit salmon with olive oil sponge, pea custard, a selection of pickled vegetables and fennel olive oil,” Alec said.

“For our main we prepared pork porchetta with carrot puree, glazed dutch carrots, confit potatoes and spring onion with an apple cider chicken reduction."

“Competing was very memorable; it was the fastest hour of my life and meeting all the new people was an excellent experience.”

Alec also participated in a solo seafood competition, picking up a silver medal.

“It was a great feeling to receive medals at an international competition,” he said.

“When I won, it made me very happy and it meant that all of the training was worth it.”

TAFE Queensland cookery teacher Alan Beggs accompanied Alec and Liberty to China.

“During the competition I was given the honour of being a rookie judge in the hot and cold categories,” Alan said.

“This was my first opportunity to judge at an international level and it was a great experience."

“Alec and Liberty both did a great job in China; it’s a wonderful achievement for them to have gained medals on an international stage."

“More importantly, the knowledge and experience they gained from this competition will set them up to go for gold in the next one.”


Qualified chefs are in high demand, with regional labour market projections predicting the accommodation and food services industry in Cairns will experience employment growth of 14 per cent by 2023.

To meet this predicted demand, eligible students may be able to access subsidies and funded training to complete a cookery course.

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