From truck driver to food cart dream

From truck driver to food cart dream

Hauati Cocker is living proof that it’s never too late to start studying, change your career and chase your dreams.

Hauati was driving a truck full-time before he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef at NMIT.

The 40-year-old father of four moved from Tonga to Nelson with his wife and family in 2013.

He says he decided to study to become a chef because the lifestyle of working weekends and spending more time with his family during the week was appealing.

Huarti Cocker
“When I drove trucks, I worked six days, from morning to night, 10 hours a day. It's a lot of working and not being at home,” Hauati says.

Making the transition from full-time worker to full-time student was “pretty hard”, especially because English is his second language. 

But he says the tutors in the Trainee Chef (Level 4) programme at NMIT have been “very helpful”.

The menu-focussed programme provides students with a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of the culinary arts. 

It’s the first step towards becoming a professional chef and students can learn from tutors who have gained their experience all over the world and benefit from NMIT’s strong relationships with local businesses and experts, including restaurant and cafe owners, global food producers, and world-class chefs.

Hauati is a devoted student. He travels to NMIT’s Nelson campus from Motueka every day and is always one of the first to arrive and last to leave.

He films each lesson so he can watch it again at home, and his wife helps to explain anything he doesn’t understand.

NMIT also supports students to find work experience with local restaurants and cafes, which can often lead to employment opportunities.

During the programme, Hauati did work experience at Kai Restaurant in Kaiteriteri, helped to cater cookery events, and also worked in NMIT’s professional student training restaurant, Rata Room.

He made such a positive impression at Kai Restaurant that he’s now employed there.

Hautai’s dream is to start a food cart business with his wife, using money saved from his truck driving days and his newly-acquired cheffing skills. 

They have already purchased a “special customised trailer” which will be fitted out with a small kitchen.

“I’m going to tell them where I want the stove to be and how I want the layout to be so it will be a good setup.”

Hauati says he’d like to create Pacifica-inspired food to give Kiwis a taste of his culture. 

The new food cart will hopefully be up-and-running at local weekend markets in the future.

Hauti hopes that his story of studying later in life, overcoming a language barrier, and switching careers will inspire others to pursue their dreams.

“I learned a lot,” he says. “I’m really glad I took this programme.”

If you’re interested in a career in cookery and hospitality, take a tour of NMIT’s programmes(external link).

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