Crowning 30 ambitious new chefs, who are ready to take their first steps as professionals in the hospitality industry, the certificate ceremony for the ninth Batch of West and the fourth Batch of East – Empower Culinary and Hospitality School (ECHS) of Dilmah’s MJF Charitable Foundation was successfully held recently, Dilmah announced.
A company press release explained that among its other initiatives, the MJF Charitable Foundation, funded by Dilmah Tea revenue, established the Empower Culinary and Hospitality School (ECHS) in 2017 in Moratuwa and in 2019 in Kalkudah. They aimed to provide free education, life skills and practical knowledge of the hospitality industry to empower young women and men from marginalized communities.
No less than 228 young chefs have graduated from the two schools to date with new batches currently in training. The tea company embarked on this ambitious initiative with the support of school governors, including Sri Lankan chef Rohan Fernandopulle, Australians Bernd Uber and Peter Kuruvita, Irishman John Clancy, in response to the wish of Merrill J. Fernando to serve humanity through his company Dilmah Tea.
Recalling his humble beginnings and the success he has achieved over the years, Merrill Fernando addressed the students at the event saying, “I started small but with faith in God, the commitment and dedication, everything worked out well. It pushed me to do more. Of the many things I have done in my life, my Foundation and its service to those less fortunate is one of the most successful endeavors that has touched many lives. For everyone – sharing your success with others will make you happier every day.”
During a very difficult year with the pandemic and several confinements, the young chefs were fully trained without compromising the quality of the program. The intensive five-month course at ECHS covers theoretical and practical knowledge of cooking, hygiene and health, IT, gardening and English, according to the statement.
“These young men and women have had the privilege of working with and learning from some of the best chefs in the world during their program, facilitating unprecedented exposure only through Dilmah and its commitment to creating humanitarian impact on the community empowerment.”
Empower Schools have unique programs, nurturing life skills, as well as culinary skills. Young men and women, many with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism in addition to typical youths, learn basic farming, self-discipline, sustainability, presentation, and the importance of practice and perfection in the art of cooking and in life.
To celebrate the successful completion of the course, the East and West Schools certificate presentation was held at the same location for the first time in CHS history, making it a memorable event and a was followed by a tea party in the ECHS kitchen with exciting moments. live cooking demonstrations by young chefs.
“Never be afraid to follow your dream and work hard to be the best you can be in life and in your career as a professional chef”, John Clancy – Chef John Clancy – ECHS Governor and Global Director of Education at Worldchefs.
Over five years, Dilmah’s ECHS, the only World Chefs-accredited culinary school in Sri Lanka, has nurtured and trained 228 young men and women to enhance their skills and shape them to become culinary professionals. industry and set up their own business. Among them are young people from different disadvantaged upbringings ranging from lack of tutors, financial difficulties, people with disabilities and creative minds from remote corners of the country.
Till today, about 68% of the students are from families with monthly household income below Rs 30,000. Validating the success of the program, almost all students in the current class have found employment in industry or started their own business. This culinary program gave them hope for a new life.
“Your great challenge is before you now, working in the real world. Not all of you will be employed in five-star hotels or fancy restaurants. Some of you will find very satisfying work in hospitals, canteens or in a food store in your village. The important thing is that wherever you work, you treat your food, your customers and your colleagues with respect,” Bernd Uber – ECHS Governor and Black Hat Chief, Australia.
ECHS alumni are spread across various world-renowned hotel chains locally and abroad. Nethmi from Kalkudah, who was part of their very first group and currently works at Dilmah Tea Trails, is one of many ECHS success stories. In March 2022, it was selected as one of the top 15 recipes in the international Dilmah tea-inspired dessert competition, being the first Sri Lankan. And Dilki from Katubedda, who was from the seventh batch, has now started her own dessert business with her apprenticeships at school.
Dilmah, as a family business that values people and nature above all, benevolence is at the heart of every activity. Besides ECHS, MJF Dilmah Foundation serves different communities through its Small Entrepreneurship Program, Women Development, MJF Kids and many other programs that impact communities daily with 6000 touchpoints at through its various platforms touching the lives and hearts of people with disabilities and children, women and youth in vulnerable communities across Sri Lanka, liberation has been achieved.