Earlier this month, Nando’s Australia hosted a MasterChef-style event to find its best chicken grillers in Australia. Scout headed along to take some snaps and taste the winner’s chicken.
It’s 9.30am and the Docklands Nando’s restaurant in Melbourne is abuzz. Chickens are sizzling, the staff are cheering and the DJ is pumping out some ’80s tunes. I’ve just arrived, and it’s safe to say, we’re still trying to work out if we had slept through our alarm clock.
“This is certainly one of the highlights of the year,” says Siobhan McCray, Nando’s Australia’s people director. “It’s such an exciting time for everyone involved.”
I’m at the national final of the Nando’s Master Griller event – a competition to find the best grillers in the country. The 16 finalists are here, all vying for a top-five finish and the chance to compete at the international Master Griller competition in South Africa later in the year.
“At Nando’s we sell bloody good chicken and this competition is about celebrating the people who make that chicken,” says McCray.
Joining the candidates are friends from their respective restaurants and everyone from Central Support (head office).
“For us, it’s one of the few events where we can actually experience what the business is all about – fiery, fresh, flame-grilled chicken, cooked with style by our best grillers from across the country,” says McCray.
“The competition lets our grillers show their passion for chicken, and for the brand, and it brings the entire Nando’s family together.”
For most of the morning, I find myself sitting on the judging panel alongside Nando’s Australia CEO Craig Mason and some other senior staff, meticulously reviewing all the candidates’ grilled chicken. We judge each piece on texture, flavour, tenderness, and a number of other key qualities.
As expected the chicken is delicious, although by the 10th chicken piece of the morning, my taste buds really start to tingle.
Master Grillers are also getting judged on how they prepare the chicken in the kitchen, and then on their cooking skills on the grill. From our table they then move onto to the last checkpoint, where they get interviewed on Nando’s values.
“Nandocas [Nando’s employees] who make it to the final grill-off are those who not only grill great chicken, but live our values every day – passion, pride, courage, family, and integrity,” says McCray.
“The finalists are also being asked about their Master Griller journey so far, and what they had gotten out of the experience.”
From an outsider’s perspective it seems that everyone is getting a lot from the whole experience. There’s a sense of unbridled enthusiasm across the room – it’s three hours into the competition and the cheering hasn’t waned.
“It’s been a great morning,” reflects one of the Master Grillers. “I just hope that mine stood out.”
I, too, was enjoying the experience. By the end of the competition I had eaten enough chicken to feed a family of 10 and leave with a complimentary bottle of PERi PERi, a few thankful tastebuds and a clearer understanding of what it’s like to be a Nandoca.
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Photography: Ben Mulligan