When Eliesa Sime was a student at Mt Roskill Grammar in Auckland, his goal was to become a chef. For the last five years, he has been part of the team preparing delicious dishes for travellers at Auckland Airport’s luxury Novotel hotel. In late 2017, he successfully completed ServiceIQ’s premiere Cookery Apprenticeship achieving the New Zealand Certificate in Cookery Level 4 qualification and was promoted to demi-chef.
Back at school, his passion for cookery served him proud: he passed NCEA Cookery with merit, which, on leaving college, helped him gain the classic entrée to a chef’s career, a role as a kitchenhand, at the Sofitel Hotel in downtown Auckland.
Now the 26-year-old, who relishes his new role at Novotel is on the threshold of a great career. What’s his secret recipe for success?
“Put your head down, focus on the work and don’t take your chances for granted,” said Sime, who made a point of asking his employer for more and more opportunities to learn while he earned. “I love the passion you put into creating dishes for guests. When you put your mind to it you can really succeed. It’s not an easy job but it’s very satisfying and I work for the joy of it.”
In New Zealand, there’s a high demand for chefs but Sima thinks a lot of young people might look at the pay rate and long hours and get put off.
“But if you’re passionate about cookery, the secret is to make your work fun and enjoyable. I love what I do so my job is always rewarding.”
Sime, who has won a couple of medals at national cookery competitions, gained his Level 3 Cookery qualification at a chef training college years before he started at Novotel. However, training on the job in a real workplace with proper guidance and mentoring from expert professionals including well-known Novotel executive chef Nancye Pirini has proven the perfect way for him to upskill. He also had a young family to support so earning while he learned was a must.
“Nancye was a really big support to me. She and the other senior chefs gave me a lot of advice, taught me right from wrong and showed me how to do things properly. The apprenticeship is really full-on and you just have to stay on top of your theory and paperwork.”
ServiceIQ hospitality sector advisor Clayton Kipling-Anderson was always on-hand to answer any questions about the qualification programme and challenged Eliesa to achieve even more than he imagined he was capable of.
“Clayton liked to push me and give me tough deadlines to increase my motivation,” admitted Sime. “He was a really good co-ordinator who would always come and check on my progress and give me a hand.”
His inspiration to become a chef came from watching his Tongan-born relatives create traditional island dishes for big family and community occasions like birthdays and church events where cooks cater to hundreds of guests. His mother is from Vaini and his father is from Haalalo, both on Tonga’s largest island Tongatapu. They emigrated to New Zealand in the 1980s. Sime recalls how he and his family in Tonga would go down to the beach in the evenings with a small portable barbeque. They might have lamb on the menu and if they’d forgotten to bring the salt, they’d simply dip the meat in the sea to add salt and pop it on the grill. It confirmed to the young chef that fresh ingredients and a simple approach can create the most memorable meals.