A bronze medal in last year’s Dilmah High Tea competition gave Dushantha Senarath and Zach Newton the hunger to try again for the ultimate prize – the gold medal and a trip to Sri Lanka.
The duo’s determination paid off. Representing the Pullman Auckland hotel, Dushantha and Zach brewed tea and created a menu that took out the gold at the recent NZ Chefs national salon.
The prize includes a trip to Dushantha’s homeland Sri Lanka to attend the Dilmah International School of Tea, to help mentor students at the MJF Charitable Foundation’s culinary training centre and to see the tea plantations and spice gardens for which the country is renowned.
Dusantha’s winning menu consisted of three dishes, all showcasing Dilmah tea infusions. One of the dishes included lemon curd with a ginger stick bundle in a chocolate nest paired with Dilmah Keemun a special loose leaf black tea. The duo describes the pairing as ‘flavourful, feisty and eloquent’.
Nigel Scott, general manager for Dilmah NZ, said during recent visits to New Zealand by Dilmah Founder Merrill J Fernando and his son Dilhan, funds were raised toward an annual scholarship for Kiwi culinary professionals to go to Sri Lanka. The goal was for them to help train students at the purpose-built culinary centre just outside Colombo.
The first recipients of the scholarship, Jaimie Stodler and Josie Geimecke of Cup & Cake in Queenstown, travelled to Sri Lanka earlier this year and had the pleasure of working with trainees in the first intake of students at the centre. Those students went on to graduate and one has subsequently helped his five-star hotel win a gold medal locally and go on to represent Sri Lanka in the regional finals.
More recently a second group of 18 students has been welcomed with open arms into the country’s hospitality industry, which is battling to keep up with its rapidly growing tourism sector.
Each intake is from tea plantation families, those injured in the recent civil war, or people who live with disability. They are supported through their training by the MFJ Charitable Foundation, to which Merrill J Fernando contributes around US$3 million a year to assist with work with people and the environment in Sri Lanka.