Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) student Barry Blue has left behind an accountancy career to find his niche as a chef – and he’s also found a rewarding connection with the New Zealand Army after volunteering to cook for soldiers on deployment in Nelson.
The 53 year-old, in his second and final year of Culinary Arts at NMIT, was quick to put up his hand to feed a contingent of Royal New Zealand Army engineers who have been in Nelson to reconstruct a memorial to first world war soldiers at the Marsden Valley cemetery.
NMIT Hospitality School tutor Phillip Reay reckoned the practical experience for a senior student would be highly beneficial and Barry Blue couldn’t volunteer quickly enough. “My father had been in the engineer’s regiment as a mechanic in the second world war and it was a chance to give something back to the engineers.” Burnham and Linton military camp-based engineers have been dining at NMIT’s Rata restaurant while spending a month rebuilding the memorial site. It includes a statue of Nelsonian Lieutenant Cox who was shot down over France on April 14, 1917 – the same birth date as Barry’s father, Douglas.
“Everyone tells me I’m great cooking for the engineers, but I reckon I’m the one who’s getting the most out of it because I’m getting another chance in the kitchen. I get to make things that I want. It’s priceless real-time experience,” says Barry.
Cooking school is not Barry’s first time in tertiary study. Ironically, it was 20 or so years ago that he attended NMIT – but as an accountancy student. “My whole life has been as a chartered accountant but I’d always wanted to run a pub.” Friends advised him to learn to cook first and Barry took the plunge. “I’ve absolutely loved it and it’s really changed my attitude towards cooking. I came here to learn to cook a steak and chips but I’ve learned far more than that. I’m still shocked and amazed what I can now create on a plate.”
The engineers, led by Sergeant Robbie Skerten says his men have been grateful for all the good meals. “It’s been awesome to be so well fed at the end of a long day. With a bit of love in it, it always tastes so much better.”
Sergeant Skerten says the memorial rebuild has been a great community project with so many people giving their time and resources. The work of the engineers and many others will be on show on Easter Saturday with the unveiling of the memorial.
While the soldiers have returned to their bases, Barry Blue and his fellow students have another month or two before they complete their diploma.
“Phillip Reay might have called me a mature student. Actually, I’m just an old student,” Barry laughs. But he has proved that you are never too old to learn, or to change career direction. Barry says his next move will be to buy a pub or restaurant and begin a new stage in life.