Italian-born Giada Grilli always knew she would be a chef. Growing up in Bologna she spent many hours alongside her nonna and aunts in the kitchen savouring every morsel of knowledge the women offered.“I was always next to my grandmother and aunties while they cooked, learning as much as I could. Working with food came so naturally. I never really wanted to do anything else,” she says. Starting culinary school at just 14, Giada had graduated by the time most young people were finishing secondary school. Now, at 30, she has spent more years in the hospitality industry than she did out of it and boasts an enviable resumé to boot.

Having completed stints at the Michelin-starred Buriani dal 1967 in Italy and Ben Shewry’s Attica in Melbourne, she set out for New Zealand with her eyes firmly set on a new culinary adventure. She found it in Auckland, where over the last four years she has worked her way through some of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants. Time spent at The Grove, Merediths, Sidart and Lillius sharpened Giada’s skills and stood her in good stead to join the team at The Sugar Club, Peter Gordon’s restaurant nestled on the 53rd floor of the Sky Tower. She rocketed through the ranks, rising from junior to senior sous before being appointed head chef – her most senior position to date – just six months after joining the team. Giada says that leadership comes with its own set of challenges but she’s taking them in her stride and is relishing the opportunity to be part of The Sugar Club family. “It’s been a steep learning curve and there’s still a lot of improvement needed but I’m slowly getting to grips with it. I’ve always worked in chef-owner restaurants so working at The Sugar Club under the Skycity Entertainment Group is allowing me to see a different side of the business and gain a new perspective. I’m learning things and getting opportunities that I probably wouldn’t inside a small business. There’s a lot of room for growth here.”

Giada’s performance in last year’s San Pellegrino Young Chef Competition no doubt helped land her the coveted Sugar Club role. A semi-finalist in the competition’s Pacific-region leg held in Sydney, Giada went up against nine of the region’s most talented young chefs. All were vying to produce an outstanding display of their culinary prowess under the watchful eyes and skilled palates of heavyweight judges Peter Gilmore, Christine Manfield, Danielle Alvarez, Dan Hunter and Jock Zonfrillo. Not one to rest on her laurels, Giada challenged herself to create a dish the likes of which had not been seen in the competition before. With guidance from long- time mentor Michael Meredith she created an entirely vegan, sustainable and zero-waste dish that showcased the humble pumpkin in all its glory. “I wanted to go outside of my comfort zone and do something original.

“To represent New Zealand doing what I love was absolutely amazing, personally and professionally,” she says.

What the future holds for Giada is still not clear. Will there be a restaurant? Will it be on our shores? “Who knows? One day, maybe. Now that I’m head chef, the main thing is not to go backwards.”