Craig Ireland's passion has always been cooking, but for the past eight years, the former chef and St John’s College Head of Culinary Arts has channelled his energy into teaching students the art of food through the school's Culinary Institute.
“Some people are born on this earth to pass on their skills to others and I think I am one of those,” he says.
“Mostly, my reward is the students and that is more important to me than anything. It’s all about the students. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here, and service is a part of what St. John’s does.”
Mr Ireland began his career as a chef as a teenager, before starting his own business years later, teaching high school students industry skills.
The business kept growing. But it wasn’t until a word from his accountant made him re-think his career path.
“My accountant told me to stop teaching and to start running my business so I could grow my business even more, so I sold my business instead and became a teacher 10 years ago – went back to University and did a Bachelor of Culinary Arts and then a teaching qualification.”
His cooking classes are regularly full across all five year levels. While that is partly due to the fact he “feeds them”, the boys’ also gain important life skills they can use during all stages of life.
However, finding a balance between teaching students who don’t necessarily want to become chefs, and those who do, inspired Mr Ireland to start the College’s Culinary Institute seven years ago.
Students in the Institute are taught the necessary skills for the industry once a week outside of school time. This year, there are 15 students across all year levels.
They cater for several events each year from wine appreciation nights, finger food functions to buffets for 200 plus people.
Mr Ireland said it is about increasing the cooking ability in students before they “even start their industry training”.
“If they start out in the industry at a higher level then they will finish their industry training at a higher level as well and that’s got to be really good for hospitality as a whole too,” he said.
There have been a number of success stories over the years. Sam Heaven, from the family behind Heaven’s Bakery, is one of them. Now, after four years at SkyCity in Auckland, he has finished as one of their top apprentice chefs.
The Institute regularly out-performs other larger schools, going to nationals every year and placing in the top four. The year is usually spent preparing for competitions.
However, in lieu of them this year due to Covid-19, Mr Ireland and the Institute have found other ways of getting first-hand industry experience. The College’s Degustation Dinners have become an annual event.
Last month’s nine-course meal proved to be a success, and this year they are hosting a second dinner due to be held on September 19, with all funds raised going towards a new espresso machine.
Having failed his School Certificate twice, Mr Ireland hopes to be an example to his students that “you can still become somebody and have a successful career with hard work and dedication”.
Last year, he was awarded of the NZ Chefs Culinarian of the Year award for his “writing, teaching and his dedication to give back to the culinary arts”.