Judging for the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2018 is now underway across the country. It’s a lengthy process that we take very seriously, with the aim of providing feedback to New Zealand’s restaurant industry, enabling its continued growth and evolution and rewarding its commitment to being the very best.

Assessments from more than 40 judges will be curated and scrutinised by head judge and convenor, Kerry Tyack, and our senior judging panel. Meanwhile my Slick & Sassy partner in crime, Vanessa Stranan, and I must turn our attention to planning the Cuisine Good Food Awards presentation.

In this, our first year as independent publishers and the trustees of our beloved Cuisine, we have an opportunity to shake things up a little, lift the bar yet again and do something that will be spectacularly Slick & Sassy. What will that look like? Where will it be? What do you feed a room full of the best chefs in New Zealand? And how do we crank up the party volume? No. Pressure.

This year we won’t be trying to outchef the chefs. What’s the point? Unless we ask them to work on the night it is impossible to produce food on a large scale that will mirror the three-hatted creations of the likes of Cocoro’s Makoto Tokuyama, Kazuya’s Kazuya Yamauchi, Giulio Sturla of Roots, Michael Meredith ex-meredith’s, Sidart’s Sid Sahrawat, Simon Wright soon to be ex-the French Cafe, Ben Bayly formerly of The Grove or Jacob Kear ex-clooney. This year the focus will be on highlighting the intense flavours of New Zealand, a visual and interactive feast to pay tribute to those leading the way in our New Zealand food story: a story that Cuisine is intent on taking to the world.

Our awards categories will be slightly re-shaped and will include a new category to celebrate our long-term players, those New Zealand restaurants that have consistently provided dining excellence and sustained their business for over 20 years. We feel that this new category is crucial. Yes, we are all about evolution and innovation, but we must also give some much-needed recognition to those who have remained relevant and successful, have helped to develop our food culture and mentored many of the chefs that we celebrate and rush to be the first to Instagram today.

Our prestigious list of three-hatted restaurants will be one to watch, with Merediths and The French Cafe changing ownership, Sidart changing the menu and The Grove and Clooney welcoming new chefs.

While they are moving around the country, I’ve asked our judges to nominate individual dishes that exemplify the essence of New Zealand. The work that our chefs and restaurants are doing in this area is impressive and must be applauded by this new award.

We are delighted to bring Pead into the mix this year, a PR company that definitely gets our industry and all of its nuances. We’re grateful, as always, to all of our CGFA sponsors, without whom there would not be an event.

Each year the bar is raised higher by our dynamic chefs and restaurateurs and we step closer to claiming a place for New Zealand as a premium food and drink destination. There is no better time to be dining out in New Zealand.

Get ready for one hell of a party…

This year the focus will be on highlighting the intense flavours of New Zealand, a visual and interactive feast to pay tribute to those leading the way forward in our New Zealand food story.