Chef Marc Soper is a firm believer in the age-old adage 'practice makes perfect'. This becomes apparent not because he overuses it, but rather because he's living proof of it.
The three-time Chef of the Capital was handed a knife at age 8, he earned his apron strings peeling pistachios under the watchful eye of his own mentor. Here, he dishes on why more young Kiwi chefs could use a helping hand in the kitchen.
Tell me how your involvement with the Next Gen mentoring programme came about?
“I originally grew up in Marlborough, and I’ve been on board with Ora King Salmon since day dot. They originally approached me and asked if I’d be interested in working with one of their young chefs.
“A lot of the chefs that apply might not have all the skills that we were taught, say, 15 years ago. It’s about having someone you can look up to. I think in New Zealand, there’s a demand for young chefs. This programme is great, it involves me doing the type of day-to-day things I’d be doing in my job anyway."
Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?
“Funny you should say that, my mum started out as a waitress, so I grew up in kitchens. I remember when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I approached a hotel in Blenheim, to a do a bit of work after school. I was wrapped, I would spend afternoons peeling pistachios. I remember one day they actually let me wash a dish – I was so, so happy.
One day I was using a knife and one of the chefs came over to me and said 'You’re about to take a finger off doing that, if you’re going to use a knife – do it properly.'"
(The chef) took my knife off me. During my Polytechnic days, I approached that very same chef, when I was doing an assignment on veges. I worked in the kitchen with him and he became a mentor to me. I once had to peel about 4kgs worth of potatoes, it took me a really long time, I did my best to peel them perfectly. In the end, he used them all for mash.”
What advice would you offer young chefs eager to get started in the industry?
"Set yourself goals. Work hard, stay focused and be yourself. Don’t take no for an answer and don’t let anyone hinder your mind. Utilise other people in the industry, it’s a very small place, so be mindful of that.”
This is the second year of the Ora King NextGen programme here in New Zealand. To learn more about this inspiring initiative, see here.
The Ora King Next Generation (NextGen) mentoring programme aims to nurture future stars of the culinary world. The programme will endeavour to provide New Zealand’s young chefs with the rare opportunity to work with some of the country’s most established culinary masters.
"One day I was using a knife and one of the chefs came over to me and said 'You’re about to take a finger off doing that, if you’re going to use a knife – do it properly.'" – Marc Soper.