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Chef is festival favourite

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Juliana D’Estelle Roe (Photograph supplied)

Nadia Hall

Fittingly for a chef, Juliana D’Estelle Roe celebrated her birthday with dinner. Still, her favourite part of the celebration was the fishing trip the day after, on September 22.

It was an “intense” week for the 31-year-old, who ended it by winning this year’s chef competition at the City Food Festival.

“I had done [charity fundraiser] Plates of Passion Tuesday morning, Rum Dinner Tuesday night, then my birthday,” the sous chef at Marcus’ said.

“Service is hectic — a lot of adrenalin, fast-paced, so I tend to go fishing to relax.

“After the big birthday celebration, we went out and caught enough to eat, went back to King’s Point made a fire, cooked it right there.

“We floated it on the cooler lid and sat in the water, watched the sun go down and ate the fish. That’s my perfect day.”

“Local” is what she prefers to cook — to her, that means “going to get my fish from the dock” — but her winning menu for last month’s competition reflected her résumé.

Each chef had to come up with three canapés using a mystery basket of ingredients.

“I went classic French, went a bit islandy and then went a bit Asian in the middle,” she said.

“I’ve had a lot of experience. I worked for L’Oriental, I’ve done traditional French before Waterlot was turned it into a steakhouse.”

She thinks her “play on a traditional lobster roll” tipped the judge’s scale.

Gnocchi, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, blue cheese and okra were the “wretched ingredients” she had to combine with lobster.

“I think that’s what took me over the edge. The unique thing is I fried it. It came out like a dumpling. I also buttermilk-fried the Brussels sprouts to get some texture in there.”

Ms D’Estelle Roe also made dim sum, with blanched okra and pickled local pawpaw; her final offering was traditional lobster thermidor with mushrooms and the “smallest amount of blue cheese”, in a vol-au-vent pastry.

“One of the judges said that I transformed every single ingredient,” she told Lifestyle.

She wasn’t planning on competing but when another chef had an accident she stepped in.

“It’s been fun to dabble back into competitions,” she said. “I won junior chef of the year, two years in a row when I was 18.

“We used to have some really good food festivals. That led me to go work in [fine-dining eatery] James Beard House in New York. I also did a culinary competition in Texas.”

She travels as much as she can, learning along the way. This summer she visited New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Sweden, London, Scotland, Costa Rica and Florida.

“It’s important. Travel is the only way to discover new foods,” she said.

In January, she will join her boss Marcus Samuelsson in London and Sweden for six weeks. The pair will then fly to Miami for the South Beach Food Festival — her prize for winning the City Food Festival.

“It’s been amazing,” she said of her time at Marcus’. “This affords me so much. Nobody else is cooking on coal. I’ve worked steakhouse high volume at Waterlot, but to actually have to create the fire to cook on, that’s another unique experience that I’ve been offered through working here.”

Other highlights include creating a menu and cooking for the founders of Google, and teaming up with Bios to bring lionfish to restaurants. The invasive species is regularly featured in Marcus’ ceviche.

Ms D’Estelle Roe has dreams of opening her own restaurant with a kitchen garden and a menu that reflects her style: “light, healthy, fresh, clean”.

“I’ve always done fine dining,” she said. “I want to hit that middle range; that affordable, you don’t have to wait for a birthday to come. You can come twice a week and get solid, good food.”

Juliana D’Estelle Roe (Photograph supplied)
Juliana D’Estelle Roe (Photograph supplied)
Juliana D'Estelle Roe (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Juliana D'Estelle Roe (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)