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WA food and cooking program teaches students impact of farms on produce

Every week hundreds of people go to Margaret River’s grower’s market to shop for some of the region’s finest foods, but once a month some of them get to stay and eat it.

The regional TAFE runs a program called Gather and Feast to give its commercial cookery students direct contact with small niche producers.

They have to prepare a menu for about 40 paying customers based on the market’s best seasonal, sustainable and ethically produced food.

PHOTO South Regional TAFE instructor Amanda Smith has over 37 years of hospitality experience.

Lecturer Amanda Smith won a national training award for the innovative program which is an integral part of the cookery certificate course at the South West Institute of Technology.

“It’s what we call live works,” Ms Smith said.

“There is no greater feedback than what they’ll get today from feeding an actual customer, rather than just working as normal in their small skills classes, so we teach them skills, the techniques, all those sorts of things and they’re putting them into practice today.”

Students at the market taking notes about locally grown produce.
PHOTO Paddock to Plate students go to the markets in order to learn from experts who produce the ingredients they use in the kitchen.

The course also includes a program called Paddock to Plate, where the students visit farms for a closer look at how produce is grown and the impacts of different farming methods.

“We go out to olive oil pressings, we go out to look at truffles and aquaculture, we design a whole program around about eight or nine producers and then we cook with the product, then they have a newfound respect for the product and we do some exercises comparing to industrial product versus free-range products and they can do taste-testing and looking at flavours and things like that,” she said.

PHOTO Cooking students are brought to local farms in order to understand how farming decisions affect the final product.

The program was developed because many of the students had little understanding of how on-farm decisions could affect the finished product.

“I guess the whole philosophy really is about having the respect for the farmer and having the connection with looking at how the animal is grown for consumption, for the restaurant plate, understanding the value and the flavour and what the farmers do for the students in terms of giving them beautiful products to work with as a chef,” Ms Smith said.

PHOTO Hospitality students learn how to plate so as to serve a more appealing arrangement of the food they cook.

Students produce their own wine

At Gather and Feast, wines produced by TAFE students are also on the menu.

Lecturer Charlotte Newton said the Margaret River TAFE now had the only winemaking course in Western Australia after Curtin University discontinued its degree course in 2014.

“We do everything from the vineyard pruning, the vineyard wire lifting, any vineyard operations … and the students are involved in the winemaking process, right from processing the juice, finishing the wine and bottling the wine,” Ms Newton said.

PHOTO Ms Newton’s expertise crafting wine has taken her all over the world. She currently lives in Margaret River with her husband and three children.

The diploma course is now the best way for people to make a career in the highly competitive industry.

“A lot of the students are actually already working in the industry, they may have started at the bottom [and] worked their way up, they have very good knowledge, practical knowledge, but they just don’t have that theory, so we’re introducing that theory, also management skills, budget skills, so then they can take on that management role,” Ms Newton said.

PHOTO The time to harvest grapes for the purpose of wine is based on weather and consideration of varying ripeness levels.

About half of all the commercial cookery students at Margaret River are on international study visas and pay up to $18,000 for their 12-month course.

Amanda Smith said the soft demand for courses from Australians was reflected in a chronic shortage of qualified cooks and restaurant staff in WA.

“In WA it’s chronic, I think most chefs around Australia would say we could do with more cooks in the kitchen,” she said.

“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of hours because we can’t find young apprentices and cooks so for us the international program, especially for us here in the South West at Margaret River, is absolutely vital to provide some of those students into workplaces.”

Former TV chef Ian Parmenter is the ambassador for Gather and Feast. He said it played an important role for promoting the region’s reputation as a centre for fine wine and food.

PHOTO Australian celebrity chef Ian Parmenter has worked on many TV shows, including Consuming Passions.

“It’s been bringing together all of the producers that are around here and these are mostly smaller producers, so they’re not into sending thousands of tonnes of meat around the country or anywhere else in this state, but they’re about this place so the diversity you get is fantastic,” Mr Parmenter said.

“Some of them are so small all they really do is rely on the markets for their total output, so it’s vital they get these kind of gigs and the promotion that comes from these kind of gigs.”

Article Source: ABC News