A MAN who started his career at Woolies but has gone on to work all over the world as an established chef has been named as the winner of the 2023 Kelso High Decade Award. Award-winning chef Liam O'Brien was named the winner on Tuesday, December 5 from among a quality field of nominees. Former Kelso High teacher, Hans Stroeve, said the award, now in its 27th year, recognises a student who left Kelso High School more than 10 years previously and has gone on to achieve outstanding success or has excelled in their chosen field. Announcing Mr O'Brien as the winner, Mr Stroeve outlined his professional career. "After experiencing working at Woolies, in 2001 Liam gained his first kitchen experience as kitchen hand at the old Sasha's Restaurant in the Bathurst Motor Inn. This started Liam's culinary journey, and he enrolled at Orange TAFE in 2001," he said. Mr O'Brien started his apprenticeship at Ziegler's Café in Keppel Street, moving his apprenticeship from 2002 to 2004 to Restaurant Legall in Keppel Street - when it was a restaurant (before it became a patisserie). In 2003, he gained second place in the NSW State Final Restaurant and Catering Competition. This was to be the first of many awards. In 2004, he moved to Sydney to complete the fourth year of his apprenticeship at Sailors Thai in Sydney. Sailors was a Sydney Morning Herald Two Hat restaurant run by internationally known Australian chef, restaurateur and cookery writer David Thompson. In 2005, Mr O'Brien started as chef de partie (the chef in charge of a particular production area within a restaurant) at another Sydney Morning Herald Two Hat restaurant, Bistro Moncur. He spent 2007 to 2009 as the chef de partie at Parrot Cay Resort and Spa in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where he cooked for many celebrities. He returned to Sydney in 2009, starting as chef de partie at the Sydney Morning Herald Two Hat restaurant Bentley, moving to the equally awarded Universal in 2010, and then as head chef in 2011 at the Alira Restaurant, which later closed. Mr Stroeve said Mr O'Brien found that he was considered overqualified for jobs he was applying for in Australia. "He received a few offers from overseas and he took up the role as executive chef for Amankila in Bali, Indonesia: a boutique hotel for mostly A-lister celebrities in a village called Manggis." After his contract was finished, a year later, his executive chef from the Caribbean asked him to set up and open Point Yamu by COMO in Phuket, Thailand, as executive chef. But Mr O'Brien wanted to return to Australia, which he did, opening the Charred Kitchen and Bar in Orange. It started from scratch as a new restaurant and bar in town, but it didn't take long for people to recognise the quality of Mr O'Brien's food. "Charred quickly became the number one ranked restaurant in Orange," Mr Stroeve said. "It also didn't take long to achieve further awards. Firstly, the Australian Wine List of The Year Awards in 2020 - finalists in five categories. "Then 2021 began with Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, and Trip Advisor's Best of the Best Award. "The year ended by winning Best Regional Wine List and Best Spirit List in all of Australasia in the World of Fine Wine Best Wines in the World Awards. "They were finalists again in 2022." Mr Stroeve said 2023 has been an amazing reward for the team at Charred, with the venue earning its first Hat in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. "For reference, there were only four Three-Hat winners in NSW - all in Sydney, and no other winners of any hats in the Central West. "This was followed with Two Hats from the Australian Good Food Guide, and the Readers' Choice Award."