Many will know Gareth Whitton as one of the brains behind the success that is Tarts Anon in Melbourne, but may not be aware that the passion for cooking began in the Highlands.
With more than 18 years of experience as a fine dining restaurant and pastry chef working in kitchens across the globe, he started as a kitchen hand in Bowral, and then scored his first apprenticeship at Centennial Vineyards.
It was only for about six months before the Oxley College and Bowral High school alumni made his way to Sydney, but he looks back on his time in the Highlands fondly.
"Every time I come back I fall in love with it again, I'm so grateful for everything the Highlands gave me as a young man and everything it has continued to give back as I've got older," he said.
His experiences over the years, including a stint for Heston Blumenthal, have all come together to form a recipe of success, as he was recently crowned the winner of the inaugural season of Dessert Masters.
Ten of the country's best dessert and pastry chefs competed for $100,000 in the MasterChef spinoff, which was judged by former judge Melissa Leong and pastry chef Amaury Guichon.
"I was just to be honest grateful to be there," he said and was "stoked" with the win.
The love for the Highlands shone through when he created the dish River Stones, which featured truffles, apple and artichokes, evoking memories of being at a local swimming hole and in nature.
"Doing that on the show it really took me back there," he said.
This is not the first time he has stepped into the MasterChef Kitchen - he was also a guest judge in 2022, where contestants had to replicate his smoked pecan and butterscotch tart in a pressure test.
His grand finale dishes scored 35 out of 40 and he competed against former MasterChef contestants Jess Liemantara and Reynold Poernomo.
Being alongside like-minded chefs and sharing ideas were the biggest takeaways for the pastry chef, who speak regularly.
"Going on to Dessert Masters just changed everything for me," he said.
Business at the stores in Cremorne and Collingwood has been "pretty frantic" as the show has progressed.
Gareth has since added black forest, which he made on the show to the Tarts Anon menu.
He is looking to see if other dishes could be adapted to for his stores.
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