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Life Is ‘Sweet As’ For Professional Chef Graduate

May 24, 2011

EIT-trained chef Luisa Ocampo is in cooking heaven creating desserts at an internationally regarded winery restaurant in Hawke’s Bay.   

The Argentine-born 20-year-old started at Te Awa mid-last year, volunteering her time to work in the restaurant kitchen while studying for her Diploma of Culinary Arts at the Eastern Institute of Technology.

“I wanted to learn more about my trade,” she explains.

Luisa also did her course work experience at Te Awa, and in October she was offered a permanent position.

“I’ve been working over summer doing desserts, and have that section to myself.  I feel lucky as a new chef because when you start out you don’t usually get your own section. “

Luisa loved her study programme at EIT.  Because it covered a lot of ground, she felt prepared going into the workplace.

“I was not in the deep end of the swimming pool.  EIT’s tutors were always willing to help students and they guided us as we prepared for cooking competitions.”

Taking part in the recent regional heat of New Zealand Culinary Fare, Luisa won the cheesecake class with a decadently-rich version – “ peanut butter on a chocolate brown base – I didn’t eat too much of it!” – and also came first in the main and dessert trainee live event. 

Her sweet creations also did well in competition last year, gaining a silver medal in the regional event and bronze at the nationals.

“Desserts are what I enjoy making most,” she says. “That’s always been true.  I’ve been waiting for it and now I’m doing it.  I may pursue many aspects of cuisine, but I will always enjoy creating desserts.” 

Striving to perfect her skills, Luisa is now doing the Advanced Diploma in Patisserie at EIT, where cookery and professional chef training has been restructured as a two-year staged journey. 

Graduates are able to leave with one or more qualifications, ranging from Level 3 to 5, at exit points on that pathway, giving greater flexibility for moving between work in the hospitality industry and study at EIT. 

Progressing from basic cookery to professional chef level over two years, they also gain the sought-after International City and Guilds Certificate – a qualification Luisa says will help her springboard into jobs overseas.  

 At some time in her life, she would like to spend time in Europe or possibly Argentina, having lived her early childhood in Pergamino and Azul – cities in the province of Buenos Aires.

A Latin American sauce and spread, dulce de leche, is among her favourite sweets.   Spanish for ‘milk candy’, it basically consists of milk and sugar boiled for six hours.

“This caramel confection is added to fruits, cakes and even cheese.   Here we might use jam, cream or icing between layers of cake, but in Argentina they would use dulce de leche.”

Luisa’s parents moved to New Zealand eight years ago to give their two children a better life.   Seeing their daughter qualify as a professional chef and happy in her work is helping fulfil the family dream.

“They’re very good employers and it’s very nice to work there,” Luisa says of Te Awa. “The kitchen has its own veggie garden outside, and now I’m learning more about the wine-related aspects of the business too.”