Cultivating Culinary Dreams for Young Pacific Chef
(from left) Chef Lecturer Thierry Le Baut, Amrita Chand and Chef de Cuisine Paul Vige
“This is a life-changing experience!”
These are the words of young Fiji chef Amrita Chand who graduated on Friday from Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand and took home the celebrated Joie de Vivre award.
Ms Chand has spent the last three months training at the Wellington campus of the world-renowned culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, as a 2017 WWF-Pacific Sustainable Seafood Project scholarship winner.
The Sustainable Seafood Project is an innovative partnership between WWF-New Zealand, WWF-Pacific, Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand Institute and the New Zealand Aid Programme. The primary aim of this project is securing food, fisheries and a sustainable seafood future in Fiji. As part of the partnership, Fiji chefs can be awarded a scholarship to undertake a 10-week course at Le Cordon Bleu's campus in Wellington.
Ms Chand is a 28-year-old demi chef at Suva's Grand Pacific Hotel (GPH), and mother of one. She began her culinary journey at the Mango Bay Resort and Sofitel, before joining GPH in 2014. She is completing an Advanced Diploma in Leadership and Management at the Australian Pacific College in Suva.
“I’ve had the chance to learn so much at Le Cordon Bleu and there are so many new cooking techniques I want to take back to Fiji,” she said. “Le Cordon Bleu chefs are really willing to teach and are so helpful with good feedback.”
A highlight of the course for Ms Chand was learning how to improvise using fresh Fijian produce, for instance using lentils instead of peas, and using fresh local fish instead of imported salmon.
“And I learnt how to make cheese and better cook with it, which is very exciting as cheese is a rare and expensive product in Fiji,” she said.
“My favourite ingredient is fish which is great because we have a lot of tasty seafood in Fiji – and paired with chili and garlic – would make a delicious Fijian dish, like Kokoda. I’m also keen to create a new recipe for a fish pie.”
Ms Chand’s enthusiasm for all things culinary was inspired by her mother.
“My Mum is my true inspiration. She is Indian but she wants to try and cook many other dishes. She was always experimenting with food and would not give up. From the age of 12, we were cooking new recipes together.
“My husband and mother are especially supportive of this chance to study in New Zealand.
“This is very much a life-changing experience as my career goal is to be an executive chef at a small resort.”
The most memorable advice Ms Chand received in New Zealand was from Le Cordon Bleu’s Chef Thierry Le Baut who said: “There is no end to learning – grasp everything you can get every day and make the most of it”.
Ms Chand was awarded Le Cordon Bleu's Joie de Vivre award which given to a student who participates above and beyond. This is the second time a Scholarship winner has received this popular award in the footsteps of 2016 graduate Avikash Singh
who also works at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand Institute’s General Manager, Jenny Jenkins, said: “Having young aspiring Fijian chefs attend Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand Institute has been a wonderful experience for everyone concerned. Without exception, each of the six scholarship recipients we have hosted have shown a passion and flair for the culinary arts and have contributed much to the school. I hope that the skills they have learned will stand them in good stead for a stellar career when they return home.”
The Sustainable Seafood Project works to build a strong collaboration between local fishing communities and hotels for sustainable inshore fisheries management and seafood supply. The goal is to raise awareness of sustainable fisheries, from fishing communities, to chefs, and tourists who dine at the hotels.
WWF-New Zealand Fiji Project Coordinator, Sholto Fanifau, said the project was about empowering communities to manage their fisheries well and encouraging the hotel industry to look locally when sourcing seafood.
“WWF is grateful to have Le Cordon Bleu as a partner, as they have created opportunities for our partner hotels allowing them to creatively develop dishes using local seafood,” Ms Fanifau said.
The Grand Pacific Hotel, where Ms Chand works, has been accessing reef fish from the project site at Qoliqoli Cokovata Macuata as part of an effort to test the community’s ability to deliver fish that meets quality hotel standards and also adheres to maturity size limits.