Rockpool, Aria and Icebergs are just some of Sydney's top restaurants to offer work to graduates of the 2024 Gadigal Summer program run by the National Indigenous Culinary Institute Ltd (NICI).
The three week pre-employment program called Skills for Success, developed by chefs Neil Perry, Matt Moran, Luke Mangan and Michael McMahan, along with Terry Durrack and Jill Dupleix, has delivered via five modules from the Cert III Commercial Cookery Program at Ultimo TAFE.
Not-for-profit NICI was founded in 2012 and has delivered programs to more than 400 students in NSW, Victoria and South East Queensland where it runs multiple programs.
NICI CEO, Nathan Lovett, said the program teaches students culinary skills, proving elite training along with experience with Australia's top chefs to prepare them for the workforce.
"When we see our participants come into our program with little to no experience in the kitchen, but then develop the confidence and ability to complete their dishes and assessment tasks on their own, without any help, is one of the most enjoyable experiences we have," Mr Lovett said.
"To see the pride and smiles as they show us their dishes plated up, knowing they have only just learned how to make this dish, have only just learned how to use their knife correctly, or just learned how to make pasta or dough from scratch, it's incredible to see the joy and delight as they show off the finished product."
Throughout the program, students learn industry specific skills and knowledge, along with terminology, preparing them for their apprenticeships working in some of the best kitchens in the country.
Graduate Masen Hennock left school at 16 to help support his family but has always been passionate about becoming a chef. He moved from Singleton in the Hunter Valley to live with his grandfather in Surry Hills to complete the culinary program.
Mason said he found the program valuable.
"Connecting with other Indigenous people that want to see you succeed regardless of your background and want to support you along your journey, I don't think I have ever had that opportunity before the National Indigenous Culinary Institute," the promising young chef said.
"I am feeling much stronger in my skills in the kitchen, it has given me a lot of confidence moving into the next phase to begin my apprenticeship at Rockpool Bar and Grill Sydney.
"I am looking forwards to learning from other Aboriginal chefs working in the restaurant and hopefully completing my apprenticeship as quickly as possible so that I can continue to grow and develop as a chef and become a head chef of one of these amazing restaurants."
Lauren Coade had some previous experience as a kitchen hand working with her mother, as well as working as a kitchen hand over the summer at Aria.
NICI reported Lauren was a standout performer in the program, showing some of the best kitchen skills of the group and since graduating, has been offered an apprenticeship at Aria.
"I really enjoyed learning how to use a knife correctly and safely, along with learning the different ways to cut produce," she said.
"From learning these skills, I felt a lot more confident in the work that I was doing as part of the course, because I was able to prepare my produce correctly and know that it was going to cook properly and look good when I was plating up my dishes.
"Before the program I was not sure if I could survive working in a restaurant like Aria, but now I cannot wait to get in there and start and become the best chef that I can be."
Three of the eleven students who enrolled were over 30 years of age, nine completed the course with one choosing not to enter employment.
Seven graduates have been offered apprenticeships and one will continue to develop skills while working as a kitchen hand.
Alumni of the NICI includes chef Ryan Battersby, originally from Armidale, who completed his apprenticeship at Catalina and is now a sous chef working for Gordon Ramsey at The Savoy by Gordon Ramsey in London.
Luke Bourke from Penrith completed his apprenticeship at Rockpool Bar and Grill and is now their senior sous chef.
His twin brother Sam Bourke also completed his apprenticeship at Rockpool Bar and Grill, then became a sous chef at Rosetta, appointed sous chef at Margaret by Neil Perry when it opened in Double Bay before being offered the head chef role of Next Door, also owned by Neil Perry.
Lizzie Lorente is currently a chef de partie at Firedoor, owned by Lennox Hastie and Jayde Harris has recently finished up as head chef of Badde Mannors in Glebe.