Award-winning apprentice chef eyes 2-stars in Paris

The winner of the Thierry Marx apprentice chef career development award has just completed her most difficult task to date – relocating a swarm of honey bees that nested inside her country house roof. Next month she’s flying to Paris to work alongside one of the world’s most decorated chefs. 

Twenty-seven year old Melanie Sheard, a third year apprentice at ZINC at Federation Square, will shadow Thierry Marx and work at his two-Michelin-star Mandarin Oriental restaurant. The career development prize includes accommodation, airfares and expenses for the one month trip. 

In her spare time Melanie and her baker husband are renovating an old wood-fired scotch oven bakery in country Lismore an hour out of Geelong. The honey bees are part of the couple’s sustainable home produce plan. 

The former sculptor is completing her third year apprenticeship with high end caterer EPICURE. “I couldn’t have ever imagined eating at a two-Michelin-star restaurant let alone find myself working in one,” she said after winning the award. 

“I’ve heard that Thierry brings a strong Asian influence to his kitchen. Instead of yelling at his staff I hear that he practices a Tai Chi approach. He’s also a master of Japanese cooking.”

After studying fine arts at Monash University Melanie realised her career was more suited to turning out tasty food than conceptual sculpture and installation art. Raised on good home cooking, Melanie worked at Phillipa’s bakeries for 10 years and considered pursuing a pastry chef career before joining the 36 year old Spotless apprenticeship program. Since 1976 Spotless has fostered over 1,000 apprentice chefs, many of whom have made an indelible mark on the Australian hospitality industry.

“The experience is excellent. I’ve cooked for hundreds of people at a time in a large scale catering environment with quality food at the MCG, Arts Centre and ZINC at Federation Square,” said Melanie.

Melanie’s five year country plan is one that her role model, Stephanie Alexander, would be proud of. ‘We will preserve the history of the oven and bakery. We will grow vegetables and make cheese from our own goats’ milk. It will be a chance to get back in touch with the food we grow, harvest and eat from start to finish.” 

Melanie Sheard, Thierry Marx Competition brief entry: 
Cook one lamb dish and one beef dish using specific cuts of meat. Submit recipes and photographs together with a recommendation from instructing chef at ZINC at Federation Square. Cook the dishes for a second time for four judges followed by formal interviews with the panel. 

Lamb prune and pomegranate
Beef and watermelon
Braised brisket, pickled watermelon rind and rosewater melon balls.
Charred rump braised neck rolled into a filo pastry cigar. A balance of sweet and savoury inspired by a Moroccan lamb and prune tagine.