Amanda Smith on training and the community

Amanda Smith, WA and Australian Trainer of the Year 2011, is a hospitality lecturer in the South West. Amanda’s successful training programs such as the ‘Paddock to Plate’ initiative integrate industry, employers and farmers. Here Amanda tells us about how the program continues to influence students and demonstrates the impact valuable training can have on the broader community.

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‘Paddock to Plate’ seeks to give students a true appreciation and understanding of local and regional produce, telling the stories behind the food and how it makes it to the table.

This specialised foods unit came about as I felt our second year apprentice chefs were perhaps too familiar working with food which was already processed: arriving in their kitchens picked, pressed, slaughtered, sliced or packaged.

The unit is highly practical in its nature, encompassing field trips to meet with farmers, foragers, olive oil experts, truffle growers, sheep’s milk cheese producers and aquaculture marron producers who are generous with time and knowledge.

Talking to farmers and producers means the students respect and understanding of regional produce has improved.  For many students it is the first time they have spoken with producers at the grass roots level; it is great to witness the farmers’ passion for their product and the students’ unfolding appreciation.  Many questions are asked and new relationships are forged.  This promotes a robust understanding of a range of concepts around ethical production, sustainability factors, product costs versus large scale or industrial practices and ability to educate through shared food knowledge.

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Last year we worked with free range pig farmer Nigel Lovejoy. Nigel is from a generation of local farming families with a wide and diverse knowledge of the area. The students engaged with him on farming and pig rearing, including the pigs’ family life and genetics, sustainability, slaughter practices and differences between shed reared and free range pigs. They got to drive around the farm paddocks and feed the sow families with their two week old piglets at foot. These engaging experiences offer context of place and ability to interact with live animals and seek farming knowledge.

At Olio Bello organic olive oil farm, the students speak with an olive oil expert, have a guided tasting and watch a pressing of olives.  The students have an opportunity to taste the unfiltered Nuovo (new) oil taken from the press directly as it is milled, an experience that is not usually available for the general  public.  The new oil exhibits a raw and intense flavour profile and is unlike any other tasting, directly from product to palate.

Many chefs are aware of the paddock to plate unit for their apprentices and support the students learning. The ability in the training kitchen to experiment with produce and flavour profiles of produce from different field trips are showcased by the students in a long table lunch held at the end of the unit.

Paddock to Plate filters through regional community, chefs and producers, inspiring further knowledge and experiences for trainers and students alike.

A benefit of regional food knowledge is being tasked with looking after all celebrity chefs main stage demonstrations at the annual Margaret River Gourmet Escape event.  International chefs enjoy learning about our produce and utilising it in their event dishes.  Students help with the preparation and get to meet many of their food heroes.

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Many of my students also volunteer at Truffle Kerfuffle – an annual celebration of all things truffle in Manjimup in late June, working alongside chefs with regional produce master classes, lunch and dinner events.

Winning the WA Training Award and the Australian Training Award as a VET chef lecturer allowed me to go on a foodie trip of a lifetime to France.  The visits I organised culminated in a broad range of experiences and knowledge I use in my classes today. Particularly, the knowledge and concepts surrounding regional, artisanal produced food like cheeses, bakery products and chocolate as well as seasonal produce such as meats, charcuterie and vegetables. I also visited culinary schools in both Paris and London and learnt new skills. These experiences provided me with a strong knowledge base and inspiration for students to explore their working career through travel and culture.

The winner of the WA Trainer of the Year 2016 will receive a $5000 training grant from Training Accreditation Council to further their skills and knowledge in their industry and develop their training practices. Programs like Amanda Smith’s Paddock to Plate, continue to inspire the WA Training Awards judges and we look forward to meeting this year’s semi-finalists.  Find out more about the WA Training Awards at dtwd.wa.gov.au/trainingawards.

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