A taste of cookery in a professional training kitchen motivated three West Auckland school leavers to sign-up for fulltime study that gives them unlimited chef career options.
Former students from Massey High School, Reuben Edwards-McKean and Ricky Parr, and Jessica McLeary-Willetts from Waitakere College first ventured into Auckland Hotel and Chefs Training School (AHCTS) with their schools’ trades academy.
Ricky always knew he wanted to be a chef and recognised the tutors at AHCTS are experienced chefs.
He wanted to gain more in-depth knowledge of what a chef really does and understand how important they are in society.
“When I saw my mum cooking, I was always interested in what she was doing and I stayed in the kitchen with her – watching, tasting the food. She got me involved,” says Ricky.
Jessica was always interested in baking but wanted to broaden her knowledge about other types of cookery and prepare complete meals.
Continued cookery training with chef tutor Adrian Managh
All three students were in Adrian Managh’s trades academy class that provides Level 3 cookery study for Auckland secondary schools.
When they left school, they wanted to continue studying with Adrian and enrolled in New Zealand Certificate in Cookery Level 4 (with internship).
“Baking was a hobby, but I thought I could learn more about cookery, and our trades academy chef tutor, Adrian relates to you as a person as well as a chef,” says Jessica.
“He knew what we had already learnt when we were here with our schools and he knew what we were like – our strengths and weaknesses.”
Challenges when studying cookery at AHCTS
The course includes practical cookery experience in reputable commercial kitchens, which can be arranged for them by AHCTS or some students find jobs themselves.
The students gain valuable work experience in real restaurants, catering companies and cafes but Jessica and Ricky say it can be difficult for them to juggle intern work with classes at AHCTS.
“It definitely helps understand what being a chef is like in real life,” says Ricky.
With their AHCTS skills, the students are given more responsibility during their work experience placements and this is a confidence boost.
For Rueben, a genuine challenge is sorting out transport, which is part of the process of growing up for young adults in New Zealand.
Learning variety of cookery techniques and skills at AHCTS
The young trainee chefs are impressed by the variation of methods of cookery they learn at AHCTS.
All chefs have their signature style, which the tutors demonstrate at AHCTS.
The students say the tutors show them the best cooking technique but if a student struggles with a specific method, the tutor works with them to find a way that works for them – until they get it right.
“Adrian shows us his version of what is best but then, he gives us freedom to create our own style,” says Jessica.
Rueben has surprised himself with is significant improvement in his cutting skills.
“I’ve got faster and more precise, which is important for professional chefs,” says Rueben.
Creating at 2019 AHCTS culinary competition
At the AHCTS culinary competition in July 2019, Rueben, Ricky and Jessica enjoyed the creative process, even though they started out with almost no idea about what to make.
The students had different chef tutors for their categories, which exposed them to other chefs’ perspectives on cookery and their dishes.
Read more about the 2019 culinary competitions here.
Balance between theory and practical cookery at AHCTS
The Level 4 cookery students think the balance between theory work in the classroom and practical experience in the kitchen improves their cookery knowledge and confidence.
“If you’re learning about braising in the classroom, then the next day you’re making a braising dish and you understand what it is you’re actually doing and why,” Rueben says.
The varied teaching methods help students who learn in different ways, such as visual learning vs practical learning.
A greater understanding of the cookery theory enables the student chefs to apply their learning in different situations and when creating new dishes.
Favourite ingredients discovered by AHCTS cookery students
The Level 4 cookery students all say they have learnt more about herbs and spices, and the best ways to use them to complement other ingredients.
“I’ve even learnt about vegetables that I didn’t even know existed, and just tasting them,” says Rueben. “We’re looking for bitterness, acidity or even sweetness.”
Jessica says she was a fussy eater and at AHCTS she is trying more food than she’s ever eaten, including salmon and Brussel sprouts.
Career prospects for AHCTS graduates
The trainee chefs know they have good career prospects as there is a large demand for skilled and talented chefs in New Zealand’s hospitality sector.
They are pleased they have good career prospects as well as a valuable life-skill and can always cook a great meal for friends, family and themselves.