THE Appetite for Excellence Awards have a special meaning to Danielle Gjestland.
The Wasabi restaurateur won the young restaurateur category in 2009, and this year her employee Lara Graham was a finalist in the waiter of the year category.
Winners were announced at the exclusive beach barbecue on Noosa Beach on Monday night, and while Lara didn't win, both young women agree the program provided valuable experience in what can be a tough industry.
"I've always looked at the program and not necessarily the competition as a way to learn and evolve in the position you're working in, and meeting different people from all over Australia," Lara said.
"It's been great to boost my confidence in that I am doing well and I am evolving in what I'm doing."
"It really provided a sense of validation," Ms Gjestland said.
"It was nice to get recognised and know that I'm heading in the right direction."
The Appetite for Excellence awards recognise young talent in the Australian hospitality industry, with categories for chefs, waiters and restaurateurs of the year.
Ms Gjestland said when she won the restaurateur award eight years ago, the spotlight was still strongly focused on restaurants in capital cities.
"Back then it wasn't cool to have a regional restaurant like it is now," Ms Gjestland said.
"To have the program outside of a capital city for the first time and in Noosa is a reflection of where the industry is heading.
"The regional restaurant industry is thriving. There's really interesting places to eat outside capital cities."
Lara said she hoped others in regional Australia follow her lead and enter in hospitality awards.
"I hope people realise that you don't necessarily need to be in a fine dining restaurant in the middle of Sydney to enter, you can just say, I'll give it a go," she said.
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