Trainee chef follows her passion at NMIT: ‘It’s so much more than just a programme’

Trainee chef follows her passion at NMIT: ‘It’s so much more than just a programme’

At just 18, Poppie McLaren’s passion for cooking is already opening doors in the industry and paving the way for a promising career.

The Trainee Chef (Level 4) student is working for Nelson company Gourmet Catering(external link), she’s a kaitiaki for not-for-profit food movement EAT New Zealand(external link), and she’s made a great start in her first year of study at NMIT.

Poppie says the course, which is the first step towards becoming a professional chef, has been “amazing” so far and she already has plans to study Culinary Arts (Level 5) next year.

“I really, really love it,” she says. “It's such a good environment to learn in with people from different backgrounds. It's really cool.”

Poppie says her love for cooking comes from the important role that food plays in her family.

“For me, food is something where everyone sits down at the table and eats together. So it's almost a way of showing my family what I can do for them.”

Growing up on her grandparents’ farm, she would pick homegrown vegetables from their garden or go fishing to create healthy meals for the family to share.

“We’d have almost all local food for most meals,” she says. “You knew exactly where it came from.”

As an EAT New Zealand kaitiaki, she’s advocating for the region’s best food and sharing the stories behind it. 

She’s also getting valuable real-world experience at Gourmet Catering where she’s given a lot of freedom to experiment with her own ideas in the kitchen.

“In Poppie's first week I asked her to create a canape and was impressed when she came back to me with a vegetarian canape recipe that I incorporated into our menu.” shared Carol Shirley, owner of Gourmet Catering.

Poppie says studying at NMIT is everything she’d hoped for and more and she really enjoys each of the tutors’ unique cooking and teaching styles.

“Lots of people ask me, 'What's it like learning at NMIT?'. And I say, 'It's like you're at school but you're at school with a family, because it's so much more than just a course. 

“If I've got problems over the weekend or if I have something wrong I always know that there's someone there to support me.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown when NMIT had to operate remotely, cookery students were sent food boxes so that they could continue their learning at home.

“So we would do Zoom calls every day, cooking with each other online, and it was literally just like a family. It was so amazing that we got sent the food boxes. It helped with passing the time.”

Poppie’s only at the start of her chefing journey and while she has big plans for her future, for now, she’s keen to learn and experiment as much as possible.

“I really think my goals are going to develop over the next year, because the more I do the course and the more industry practice I get, the more I love it and the more my passion grows.

“I would say I see it as a tree. Once I've got my qualifications, that's like the trunk. And then, honestly, it can branch out with all the different options. I want to do everything in hospitality. I really hope that I can do something that brings it all together.”

Poppie is also sharing her kitchen creations on Instagram(external link) where you can follow what she’s cooking up in the NMIT kitchen.

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