Aspiring Chefs Swap South Auckland for Spain

March 2018 - Hospitality Business

Auckland’s newest cookery school is making culinary history, with trailblazing programmes that include internships at top Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain.

Manukau’s Ignite Colleges opened its school of culinary arts on February 12, with a range of innovative courses for the country’s next generation of chefs. As part of their training, students will have the chance to learn from the world’s best, by interning in their choice of more than 20 one, two and three Michelin-starred restaurants around Spain. Amongst those on offer are renowned establishments Disfrutar, La Botica, Culler de Pau, La Solana, Annua, and Nacho Manzano.

The career-propelling opportunity is thanks to a partnership between Ignite Colleges and e-Spain, a company which organises culinary and pastry internships for wannabe chefs from all over the globe.

e-Spain Founder & CEO Angel Moreton says he has placed numerous culinary arts students from as far afield as Ireland, America, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua and Cuba into his internship programmes, but this is the first time he has ever worked with a cookery school in New Zealand.

“If you want to be a top chef you need to mix and cook with leaders in the industry. You need to make those international connections,” says Angel.

“After finishing their studies, it is crucial for cookery students to go into a business to see how it runs and immerse themselves in the food culture and restaurant culture at that level. Spain is now considered to be top of the world in culinary arts, so it is the perfect place for students to do that.”

Internships range from three to nine months, and e-Spain also arranges everything from visas to accommodation, and even Spanish lessons (although Angel is quick to point out that most manage to get by on English, and the limited Spanish they pick up in the kitchen).

“We work hard to match the right student with the right restaurant so that they can get the very best from their experience. Everyone has a different goal. Some want to open their own restaurants, some want to specialise in local cuisine or molecular cuisine, some have a passion for seafood. There are so many options and opportunities. Not every student wants to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant such as Disfrutar. They may prefer to work at a high-end bakery that creates the desserts for a Michelin-star restaurant. We can arrange that too.”

Angel has lived all over the world, including stints promoting Spanish food and wine for the Spanish government in New York and Miami.  He has worked with some of the most esteemed culinary schools on the planet and has also opened one – the International School of Culinary Arts – in Spain.

Now, through e-Spain, he connects cookery students with top chefs, hosts wine and food tours all over Spain, and has launched some of the world’s most exciting culinary competitions including the first world professional tapas competition (which took place in Spain last November) and the first worldwide black truffle competition, held a month later.

Top chef and Ignite Colleges General Manager Jasbir Kaur has experienced first-hand the benefits that immersion in the Spanish food culture can bring. Early last year she spent four months working at Disfrutar, returning to Spain again in November to represent New Zealand in the inaugural world tapas event.

“Nearly every top chef in the world has spent time working at (the now closed) elBulli, in Catalonia. Today the top chefs who are coming through work at places like Disfrutar – and now Ignite Colleges cookery students will have an exclusive chance to learn from them,” says Jasbir.

“This is an incredible opportunity and one that is not offered by any other culinary arts school in New Zealand.”

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Ignite’s internship students will learn an array of cutting edge skills, from cooking techniques to management styles. They’ll rotate through every station in the restaurant, accompany chefs to gather food from local farms, and learn about traditional and local ingredients.

But they are not the only ones who will benefit.

“Many very good friends of mine are top chefs in Spain,” explains Angel.  “They love taking on interns from overseas because not only is it a great learning experience for the intern, but it also gives the chefs and restaurants themselves the chance to learn about new ingredients from other countries, and different styles of cooking. It is a shared opportunity that brings fresh perspectives for everyone.” The problem is, busy chefs don’t have the time or expertise to find the interns, or organise the internships. “That’s where I come into it. I take care of all of that. I make sure the match is perfect and sort out the visas and accommodation so that the chefs and the students don’t need to do anything other than enjoy, learn and get the best experience.”

With an Ignite Colleges qualification and Spanish internship behind them, our newest wave of Kiwi chefs will be well-placed to launch successful careers in the industry.

And as Angel points out, while some graduates may use the internship programme as a springboard to a global culinary career, many will return to New Zealand, bringing with them fresh flavours, skills and ideas.

“Ignite Colleges and their students are going to change the landscape of culinary arts in New Zealand. The world of food is changing so much. Ten or fifteen years ago chefs were hiding in the kitchens, now they are stars and everybody wants to be one. Never before in history has culinary arts been at the top of the page like it is now. We need to take advantage of it.” 

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