The National Indigenous Culinary Institute has been instrumental in placing its young chefs in some of the country's top restaurants, and now three from the program are about to join the ranks at Noma Australia, the 10-week pop-up that sold out in four minutes. The chance to work with the world renowned chef Rene Redzepi is, for many chefs, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The program first started five years ago , spearheaded by Barry McDonald (big man on Cafe Sopra/Fratelli Fresh campus) and recently launched in Melbourne. Supported by Neil Perry and Michael McMahon, not to mention the Fratelli network, the young chefs take part in a three-year program and work in three different restaurants.
That is, if they can be dragged away from their posts. Some chefs like the restaurants they're working in so much they can't find it within themselves to leave. No matter what, at the end of it they're fully qualified chefs. "I want them to be role models, not just cooks," McDonald says.
The idea, he says, is for them to work in really great places for those three years. At the end of their tenure, the two chefs showing the most promise are then sent to work overseas. Past placements have included Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and the Ledbury, and this year two will go and work with Thomas Keller at either the French Laundry or Per Se.
A little closer to home, chefs Stephen Thorpe (Charcoal Lane), Luke Bourke (Rockpool Bar and Grill) and Jade Santo (Fratelli Fresh Walsh Bay) have recently been accepted onto the Noma team to work alongside some of the world's greatest chefs for next few months or so. "I think it's life changing for these kids. I really think it's important,'' McDonald says. "They'll probably learn more than they do at our restaurants about native produce."