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Apprenticeship an Entrée to Culinary Career

September 4, 2012

Harata Neera’s Friday night job washing dishes has springboarded her into a cookery apprenticeship at Pacifica, one of Hawke’s Bay’s most highly-rated restaurants.

From Bay View, Harata has always loved cooking traditional roasts and other family fare – “particularly with my Nan and Dad”. 

As a student at Napier Girls’ High School, she worked part-time at Pacifica, on Napier’s Marine Parade.  Co-owned by husband and wife team Jeremy and Rebecca Rameka, the restaurant is well-known for its creative cuisine and a wine list that promotes the best of Hawke’s Bay. 

Pacifica is a frequent winner of Best Restaurant and Best Chef in the Hospitality Awards and has been runner-up in Cuisine magazine’s Restaurant of the Year.   

Executive chief Jeremy and maitre d‘ Rebecca recognised Harata’s potential and offered her a full-time position last December.

 “It was a stepping stone from school,” says Harata, who has already shown she has what it takes in winning the New Zealand King Salmon College Challenge at last year’s Salon Culinaire – New Zealand’s premiere culinary and service industry competition.

Contestants are required to find their own methods for forming the product.  Harata wrapped the salmon in blanched spinach and pastry and served the dish with urenika marquise – mashed and piped Maori potatoes.

She turned down her prize, a scholarship to attend the Auckland Hotel and Chefs Training School, to stay at Pacifica and take up an apprenticeship offered through the Eastern Institute of Technology.

EIT was recently appointed Regional Modern Apprenticeship Coordinator for the East Coast region.    In charge of the restructured scheme, EIT chef tutor Grant McHenry says it is largely based on workplace assessments, so he will be regularly calling into the restaurant to evaluate Harata’s progress in the kitchen.

There will opportunities for her to meet other apprentices at master classes held at EIT four times a year. 

“We will go through a few things not likely to be done in too many workplaces,” Grant says.  “That will also give the apprentices time to network.”

Gaining a Modern Apprenticeship qualification usually takes three years – 18 months for Level 3 and the same for Level 4 – although the programme is flexible and can be contracted or extended to suit.

Harata hopes to travel once she qualifies but will be getting her first taste of OE as early as July.   In mid-winter the award-winning restaurant closes for a month, and Jeremy and Rebecca have invited her and another staff member to join them on a trip to the USA – taking in Orange County in California, Las Vegas and Iowa for a reunion of American-born Rebecca’s family.   

“A successful restaurant is very much about teamwork,” Jeremy says.  “You have to look after one another no matter what, working through clashes of personality by being disciplined.  There are a lot of young people out there with a lot of talent and discipline and self-discipline are what get them through.”

Harata is very much part of the Pacifica team.  In fact, she says Jeremy and Rebecca are like second parents.

“It’s a great experience,” she says about working at the restaurant, “and I have learnt a lot so far.”