Diversity moves into Sydney’s kitchens

It’s tough enough for young chefs to get a gig training in the country’s top restaurants.

So imagine the hurdles confronting Australia’s aspiring indigenous chefs.

Enter the National Indigenous Culinary Institute (NICI), which offers mentoring, elite training and apprenticeship programs for indigenous trainees.

The institute was established in 2012 by people in the restaurant industry who were concerned that there were no indigenous chefs in Sydney’s fine dining restaurants.

Among the big names who got together to plan a solution were top chefs Guillaume Brahimi, Neil Perry and Matt Moran, and reviewers Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack. With their drive and guidance a three-year program was developed to encourage indigenous youth to enter the industry for training at a list of host restaurants including Bistro Guillaume, Café Sopra, Rockpool bar and Grill, QT and Catalina.

The non-profit organisation is now celebrating its 5th year and its 3rd batch of graduates.

Hatch met some of the apprentices to discuss the program and their progress.

Terrence Brown, a third-year apprentice, trains at Bentley Restaurant & Bar. Like many passionate young hopefuls he found it difficult to get a foothold in the industry, despite spending time as a kitchenhand. He ended up in construction before NICI came to the rescue.

Keith Munro at NICI’s 5th Anniversary Dinner

Keith Munro is a 2nd-year apprentice at Icebergs Dining and Bar room at Bondi Beach under the guidance of head chef Monty Koludrovic.

“Working closely with Monty at Icebergs, I was able to help him and his team at cooking demonstrations,” he tells Hatch. “To be able to have met the top chefs in Australia and now working closely with Monty and being a part of his team is a dream come true.”

Keith has spent time at Mr Wong and Catalina, and has presented individual demonstrations at Sydney’s indigenous Blak Markets at Barangaroo and La Perouse.

“To be able to do individual demonstrations at these markets has been one of my greatest accomplishments and wouldn’t have been able to be done without NICI.”

For many entrants, the transition can be difficult and challenging, so NICI runs a pre-apprenticeship program for interested youths. Michael Ingrey, general manager of NICI explains that this not only allows the potential trainees a chance to work out for themselves whether they are ready to put in the long demanding hours and hard work an apprenticeship requires, it also gives NICI an opportunity to assess the candidates.

“By having a variety of partner restaurants we are able to put apprentices in restaurants [best] suited to them,” he says. The quality of the mentors and the restaurants involved is a key to the apprentices’ success: “[Once] they have done their apprenticeship, they have connections with not only top quality restaurants in Australia but in the world.”

The CVs the graduates develop become their passports into the fine dining world. – Words, video and photos by Jessica Spiteri @jess_spiteri21

Top photo: The apprentices, left, receive their instructions for the anniversary dinner at Governor Macquarie Tower from chef  Zeva Brennan.

In the interest of full disclosure, the owner of Macleay College, Bill Sweeney, is a director of the NICI.

About Jessica Spiteri 7 Articles
20 year old journalist who loves producing human interest content involving case studies. Follow on twitter: @jess_spiteri21 and Facebook: Jessica Spiteri