Diverse and delicious at De La Salle

Issue: Volume 96, Number 17

Posted: 22 September 2017
Reference #: 1H9ex4

From competitive cooking to perfect pasta, hospitality is an exciting subject at De La Salle College. Teacher Aaron D’Souza left the busy industry to share his passion with young people, as he tells Education Gazette.

Food technology is a sizzling subject at De La Salle College in Mangere, Auckland.

Teacher Aaron D’Souza says the technology department has a strong focus on career pathways for students, especially in the subject of senior hospitality.

A former chef, Aaron recently retrained as a secondary school teacher and is excited about sharing his industry knowledge and connections with young aspiring chefs.

“We believe that the hospitality industry is only getting bigger and stronger – there will soon be a huge shortage of professionals in this area,” he explains.

“I worked in the Auckland CBD during the last two America’s Cup races, and the amount of work out there was phenomenal. There are growing opportunities for young chefs. It’s sometimes perceived as a low-skill job, but in reality there’s demand for highly skilled professionals in this area. I believe it’s a great career to go into.”

Aaron says there are a number of ways in which schools can use their industry connections to help students move into internships and apprenticeships once they finish secondary school.

For example, Auckland company Skycity offers apprenticeships to around 10 students each year, and Aaron plans to help establish a set of scholarships to award to outstanding De La Salle College students to help them get started once their leave school.

A rewarding job

Joking that he doesn’t want to see himself out of a job, Aaron wants to encourage others in the hospitality sector to consider making the move to teaching.

“I think it would be great to see more chefs working in schools. There’s something to be said for sharing your knowledge and helping to shape the next generation of hospitality workers. It’s a fantastic industry with many opportunities just waiting for our young people,” he says.

Aaron got his start in the hospitality industry in Auckland and worked as a chef at hotels such as The Carlton, Skycity and the Copthorne for a number of years, through which he got involved in teaching students on the Gateway programme.

Wanting to change his work schedule to better suit his family life as a full-time solo father, Aaron retrained as a teacher and hasn’t looked back.

“I was finding that being a chef was quite stressful at the time, due to the long hours, and missing out on time with my sons. Teaching seemed like a natural progression for me, as well as a good use of my technical skills and experience.

“Along with your skills, you bring all your industry connections and knowledge with you to the classroom, which I think is hugely beneficial to a school’s technology department.”

Perfecting pasta

In one example of the school looking further to extend their resources, De La Salle College partners with Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) to deliver lessons in all things pasta.

“This was a great initiative introduced by my colleague Josie Apelu who also teaches food technology and hospitality at De La Salle,” says Aaron.

MIT’s commercial kitchen adds a level of professionalism to the skills learned.

In this unit of work, students study the geographical and historical heritage of this favourite food, and learn to make a range of dishes to industry standards.

These dishes, which range from spaghetti bolognese or a creamy carbonara with poached egg, to gnocchi and baked pasta, are then served up to teachers for assessment, Masterchef-style.

“Assessments for this standard take place at MIT, which is brilliant because it gives our students a taste of a commercial industry environment. It’s so much bigger than our school’s own facilities – it really seems to inspire them,” says Aaron.

Making pasta itself from scratch is not technically required for this standard of work, but Aaron says he’d like to add that to his students’ repertoire in the near future.

Competitive cooking

Hospitality students at De La Salle College have been competing in the Culinary Fare (now known as the NZChefs Hospitality Championships) secondary school competition for five years.

“When our students first started competing they had their hearts set on not only getting the school their first ever culinary medals but to be the first students in the school’s history to get gold medals,” explains Aaron.

“Five years on, due to all the hard work and commitment from Josie, the students and me, we have won a range of medals – bronze, silver and that elusive gold! These awards are huge achievements for our South Auckland boys – they now have a passion for this competition and continue to enter year after year, striving to be the best in their category.”

Aaron says he continues to encourage students to take part for a number of reasons, the most important being confidence.

“They get a lot of confidence out of competing. They also build resilience – learning how to work in a pressured environment, and to take feedback and constructively look at their work.

“It’s also amazing to see their knife skills improve a lot from the sheer practice they put in for an event like this. Those practical skills pay off when it comes to their assessments too.”

Competitions like this are also beneficial to students who want to go on to careers in the sector.

“Obviously, it’s a major industry event – employers are there, and students do get noticed.”

During this year’s culinary championship event, cooks were challenged to create dishes ranging from omelettes and soups, pasta dishes and café style sandwiches.

Students also whipped up smoothies and coffees and showed off their best table-setting skills in the main arena.

De La Salle College students won six silver medals from the seven events they entered.

“They did really well, especially considering that the majority of them had never competed in an event like this before,” says Aaron.

The Secondary Schools Competitions are part of the NZChefs National Salon, New Zealand’s annual culinary and hospitality championship event, which runs for four days in Auckland. There are also regional secondary school competitions around New Zealand throughout the year with the winners earning the rights to compete at the national event.

“The secondary school competitions are a great opportunity for the students to practise their cooking skills, learn from their peers and have fun,” says NZChefs national president Graham Hawkes.

“If we can get the students inspired in the kitchen, they’ll start learning how to cook and they’ll subsequently eat better. They won’t have to rely on food that comes from packets. It’s a skill that they will have for life and it can only have a positive effect on their long term wellbeing.”

Diversity on a plate

Like the Culinary Fare, the Auckland-based ‘What’s Your Flavour Burger Battle’ presents a fun and exciting way for aspiring chefs to show off their skills in the public sphere.

Hosted by Auckland Council in partnership with NZChefs Association, this annual burger competition tasks secondary schools students with designing and creating a healthy and original burger dish.

The event is open to students in years 11, 12 and 13 from across the region, with internal school heats being held from May each year, and finishing with the main event at the NZChefs National Salon in July.

Aaron says his students enjoy coming up with burger ideas and participating in the competition itself is exciting.

“The burgers are fun to make and my students have put together some fantastic flavours,” he says.

In the 2016 event they took home a gold medal for their Asian-style burger, which consisted of a Chinese steamed bun, kimchi slaw, and a free-range beef patty with Japanese coconut mayonnaise, served up in a hāngī smoked dome.

NZChefs executive officer Carmel Clark says the burger competition is a great council initiative that encourages students to view hospitality as a potential career option.

“The idea is to get students engaged in creating their own twist on a family favourite and it helps develop skills needed to cook wholesome food at home. Some of these students go on to consider careers in the industry, which is great as we know there is very strong demand with the growth of tourism in Auckland.”

Guest judge and Ōrākei Ward councillor Desley Simpson says she was impressed with the students and the quality and variety in the burgers they produced.

“I was amazed by how unique each burger was and in particular how each team’s culture was reflected in their creation. You could actually see Auckland’s cultural diversity on a plate.” 


Student voices 

“The Culinary Fare is not something you take lightly – it is very intense. There are many rules you must abide by and several obstacles you must overcome.
Last year I participated in the national competition, preparing and cooking a cornish pasty. This was a team event and it wasn’t easy. There were weeks of training that went into preparing for the competition but there were several areas where we failed. This was a learning process for us the students and our teachers. Although we did get a bronze medal we knew we could do better.
This year I competed in another team event at the regional competition. We needed to prepare a healthy burger which was actually the main event of all the cooking classes.
This time we had a better understanding of how to prepare as we participated last year but we still had some mistakes. We had less practice time than last year but somehow felt more confident. With this new-found confidence we actually got a silver medal. In doing so we qualified for the National Healthy Burger competition.
Taking part in the Culinary Fare was a load of fun and very stressful but it taught me to never give up and to keep pushing through all the obstacles in my path.
I am looking forward to competing in the national competition this year, but most of all I am ready for next year where there will be no mistakes and hopefully a gold medal.”

- Payton Coates, year 12/Level 2 hospitality student.

The Culinary Fare is a great opportunity for all students taking hospitality as it really gives you an insight on how a professional kitchen would work. Although the skills may not be the same, the work ethic is.”

- Joseph Saufua, year 11/Level 1 hospitality student.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:14 pm, 22 September 2017

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