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Culinary schools not visa factories

Aun Ngo

Tue Jun 16 2009

Young chefs were feeling the heat at the inaugural International Students Cooking Cup in South Melbourne. Photo: Gregory Tan

Young chefs were feeling the heat at the inaugural International Students Cooking Cup in South Melbourne. Photo: Gregory Tan

YOU could have mistaken the kitchen for Gordon Ramsay’s, as nervous young chefs scurried back and forth from food bench to pantry, slicing onions, deboning salmon, stirring giant vats of broth in a flurry.

They were in Hales’ kitchen, a South Melbourne training facility run by Hales Institute, a private provider of TAFE programs in Victoria.

It was the state’s first cooking cup for international students and there were five teams represented at the May 27 event, with competitors from William Angliss, Victoria University, Carrick Institute, the Meridian Institute and Hales.

The event kicked off with the opening of a mystery box of ingredients, as the teams began work to create a three course meal for the panel of judges, MasterChef style.

Hales’ hospitality head of department Paula Harris said the cooking cup was an opportunity for students to rub shoulders with experts from the industry and to show they were committed to their craft.

She said culinary schools had earned a bad reputation of late, no thanks to dodgy vocational education providers making a quick buck out of students – opening and closing down in a short period of time, and schools that resembled “visa factories” churning out certificates to students more interested in gaining the right to stay in Australia than a real interest in education.

Presiding over the judging process was prominent industry veteran of 50 years Bernd-Michael Uber.

“It is about time to give the international hospitality students the opportunity to prove themselves and make them proud of the career path they chose when coming to Australia,” Mr Uber said.

He hoped the competition would encourage students to join the workforce and remain in the industry.

The competitors had trained hard in the months leading up to the competition, and Hales’ hospitality consultant Dario D’Agostino said some of the students were ‘‘very, very talented”.

But despite “having what it takes”, international students sometimes found it hard to gain work experience, he said.

“New training regulations will see all hospitality students having to undergo 900 hours of compulsory work experience – and for the majority of international students it is very difficult, what with industry views of international hospitality students,” Mr D’Agostino said.

State Labor MP for Carrum Jennifer Lindell, and industry representatives from the Australian Culinary Federation, Melbourne-based executive chef association Les Toques Blanches and other organisations were among the guests at the event.

Ms Lindell said the competition was a milestone for the hospitality industry in Victoria, and hoped the competition could be held on a national level next year.

Food Service Industry Australia’s chief executive Carol Rathschild said it was important to recognise the showcase of talent that day, and the competition was a reminder of Australia’s skill shortage.

The nation is most in need of chefs, according to the latest Clarius Skills Index.

It was Carrick who took home the cooking cup champion title at the end, ahead of Hales and Victoria University.