Angie Wilson inspires students

WILLIAM CHEF OF THE YEAR 2014

They may be subliminal, but the messages on Angie Wilson’s classroom walls are good ones.  ‘Eat Your Colours Every Day’ features prominently along with a whole range of other resources from vegetables.co.nz that outline everything from seasonal availability of New Zealand produce, to how much of your plate should be dedicated to vegetables.  They’re messages for a receptive audience – a whole new generation of culinary superstars waiting for their time to shine.

Angie Wilson, the Head of Department for Catering and Hospitality at Onehunga High School, knows her superstars.  One former pupil, William Mordido was awarded the country’s top prize when he won Chef of the Year at the Restaurant Association’s National Competition in 2014.  William has also taken out several other prestigious awards in New Zealand and is representing the country in Manchester in September when he will compete for top honors at the International Association of Gastronomy - Chaine des Rotisseurs.

Working at the coalface, training talented and ambitious young people is clearly something Angie relishes.  And William is not her only success story.  Many other students (past and present) have competed and won accolades at a range of culinary competitions.  In fact competing has become a bit of a thing. 

‘I’ve been a habitual competitor for a long time – I’ve entered the kids into a lot of competitions because it gives them exposure to people looking for apprentices.’ 

Angie’s own career in food started in Australia.  Originally working as a Home Economics teacher in Melbourne, Angie left teaching to focus on a career in hospitality and catering in Queensland.  After meeting her Kiwi husband, Angie arrived in New Zealand and found herself again in the education field, working both at high schools and undertaking various roles at the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT).

‘When I arrived I was amazed that Home Economics was where you put all the kids who didn’t know what else to do.  The cooking they were doing at school was not very inspiring.  I started to investigate how I could change that.  While I was at Glendowie College I started a partnership with AUT and did a bridging course with the kids, sending them out into industry a day a week and then when I went to MIT I started having discussions about what the kids were doing in schools.  In partnership with MIT and a few other teachers – it got bigger and bigger.’

Putting her students through their paces, pushing them to become the best they can is a big motivation for Angie, who says the Onehunga High School model is more like a pre-apprenticeship.  Competitions play an important role in teaching the students to work under pressure and approach their work with not only good work habits but creative thinking.

Students have to be creative to get noticed.  Their own creative treatment of vegetables in the competitions is a great way to get the attention of the judges, particularly when the vegetables on offer are winter varieties that typically get prepared in more traditional ways.

‘Vegetables are so important to everything we do.  The kids will try all sorts.  Before this year’s competition the kids did research about what was in season.  We had silverbeet and cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, and parsnips – all the old fashioned winter veges.  Your grandmother wouldn’t have made a meal like my kids did!’

From the silverbeet trio entrée to the parsnip puree and cauliflower and broccoli couscous sprinkled on the main dish, the winning team from Onehunga High School certainly pulled out all stops to impress the judges. 

‘I was really proud of them’ says Angie Wilson.  ‘I’ve got to a point where my expectations are pretty high.  When I think back to when we first started, we got beaten every single time – but through sheer persistence and hard work and getting kids to investigate what they’re capable of, we’ve got where we are today.  I let the kids go for it.  They need to take the initiative and come up with ideas.’

For the moment it seems like those subliminal messages on the classroom wall are working extremely well.   

Previously published in the NZ Grower magazine.

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