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Wunderkind CIT apprentice chef sets the Table

Published: 18 Jul 2022


Author: Anja de Rozario
Publication: Canberra Weekly, 14 July 2022
Photographer: Kerrie Brewer, image courtesy of Canberra Weekly
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The closest thing to a set menu at Table by Canberra Gourmet, is a constant flow of new ideas written in marker on the kitchen bench. The brainchild of Chef Thomas Heinrich, Table is a place for young, talented chefs to be as creative as possible.

Among them, 20-year-old Noah Cairnduff, a third-year apprentice at CIT, will go on to compete in nationals for the 2022 NestlĂ© Golden Chefs Hat Award in September, after winning the ACT heat – twice.

The wunderkind chef told Canberra Weekly that throwing his hat in the ring a second time was an easy decision.

"As good as last year's virtual finals were, I wanted to get the real experience of meeting all the other chefs and going into a full competition environment.

"I was pretty confident, possibly too confident," he smiled. "The regionals this year were another good learning experience for me. It brought me back to where I needed to be, so that I'm ready for the finals. I know what I need to work on."

"Being a little less cocky," he laughed. "And I want to get in as many opportunities as I can to practise, I saw a lot of great ideas [at regionals] that I would love to adapt into my own dishes."

Born and raised in Canberra, cooking has always been at the heart of Noah's family. "I've always been in the kitchen, learning off my mother and my grandmothers."

"I don't think there was ever a time in my life where I wasn't in love with food."

Noah was cooking dinner for his family by the age of 12. "What I love most about food is feeding people," he smiled.

"My Croatian grandmother, who was called by just about everyone 'Bubba', would never let you walk into the house without being fed – and overfed.

"My mum would always put on these massive banquets just for dinner, anytime someone comes around. I've always fallen in love with that side of cooking; where you get all these people around to your house and serve this beautiful food, and it gets everyone into a better mood.

"Food is something everyone needs and to be able to elevate it from just sustenance to something that you enjoy, it's a beautiful thing," he said.

Noah was 17, working as a kitchen hand at a leading Canberra restaurant when he met Chef Thomas, "just finishing up year 11 and looking to see what comes afterwards."

In a "flip of a coin moment" between pursuing music or cooking, Noah chose the latter. According to him, his mentor fanned the flames "moving it from a job that I could see myself doing, to a life I want to build for myself."

If you ask Chef Thomas, however, he'll tell you that he was intrigued by Noah's passion, after he outright told him not to pursue a chef's career path.

"It's a hard life. I told him, 'Are you sure want to do this?' And he kept saying to me, 'Yes!' I said, 'You sure? You won't have a social life. Valentine's Day, New Year's, Mother's Day, Christmas, you won't see your friends, you won't see your family. You'll be working where everybody else is celebrating."

"He insisted, 'This is what I want to do.'"

"Chef Thomas took me under his wing and got me an apprenticeship, and here I am with him now, three years later," smiled Noah.

After Chef Thomas left the restaurant in 2019, he asked Noah to join him six months later.

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