Visiting the School of Food and Hospitality at Ara

Christchurch Central Electorate
Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I was recently talking with several local restaurateurs who commented on the lack of available chefs working in Christchurch’s fast growing hospitality sector. Always keen to follow up on these potential job opportunities for Cantabrians, I thought I would do some research of my own and recently visited Ara Institute of Canterbury’s Christchurch City Campus to hear about their chef training programmes. What I found was a thriving, globally recognised chef training programme based right here in Christchurch.

Ara currently runs courses in gourmet cooking, baking and patisserie with 290 students training within 19 different cookery groups. Next year the number of cookery groups is set to increase to 21, meaning the Department will run at full capacity.

Beyond the basic training and formal qualifications, Ara is continuing to push the boundaries with its work.

This year two teaching staff members won Silver and Bronze medals at the Culinary Olympics in Germany, beating some of the best chefs from around the globe, the latest in a long line of success at this competition. The Departments team has also won the Nestlé Toque d'Or, one of New Zealand premier food and hospitality competitions, 14 times in the past 26 years. It is little wonder that the Bakery and Cookery programmes are also recognised for its excellence through their World Association of Chef Societies accreditation, the first and only one in New Zealand and one of just 51 schools worldwide to be given this honour.

Globalisation is also evident at the school with around 60% of students coming from an international background who then go on to fill shortages in the local labour market. It has to be noted that domestic demand for courses is dropping slightly, and we must look at ways to encourage more Kiwis to enter the food and hospitality sector, one of the fastest growing industries in New Zealand.

But one aspect of the excellent work being done at Ara that really stood out for me was not so much the accolades and student numbers, but the flexibility on offer for students. Some courses can allow up to 20 hours part time work during the week, while others allow existing chefs to boost their qualifications by completing assignments in the workplace and work with employers to develop training which meets their needs. This means that for the many existing workers who entered the workplace some years ago, they can upskill to the latest qualifications while continuing to work, a great opportunity I cannot recommend enough.

We are fortunate to have such a world-leading training institute right here in Christchurch, and we must keep supporting the team who run it by encouraging more local people to sign up.

So if you know young people with creative flair and who have a real interest in food, let them know that being a chef is a great career with plenty of opportunities right here in Christchurch, as well as around the world.