Chef Sarah Maric has worked for blue bloods from British royalty to business royalty across the world, and now, working in vocational training with the support of William Angliss, she has a mighty lot of experience to pass on, and some wisdom in chef training to impart about the industry.
Her positive take on apprentice pathways and the choices available in hospitality is so refreshing.
“Kids in our industry are luckier than other trades – there’s so much opportunity. They can travel, work anywhere – at resorts, hotels, catering, business, product development, marketing, tourism, events. It’s endless, the huge variety, and William Angliss knows that – we do the best we can – we’re trying to catch the kids and get them into the industry.
The tragedy is, so often parents deliberately divert them away, and that’s more often with the kids who feel a drive, a passion to be in hospitality. But the parents just don’t see the value. If anything we need some sort of forum where chefs start promoting the industry to year 9 and 10 students.”
How good would that be? I ask, and we agree, that as the global job market is changing rapidly, hospitality is booming and needs to be seen as a real career, with a multitude of pathways that can satisfy anybody with a leaning towards the industry.
“When Charles and Diana came over, we made them a picnic lunch and later the Queen came over on the QE2 for an afternoon”
But where did Sarah start? Was she a passionate early beginner? Sarah thinks carefully, and begins:
“I left school at 15, went to a UK Culinary Institute and after two years, I left home at 17 to cross to the Channel Islands. There was a job working for the Governor of Jersey, and that changed the course of my life. It was as an assistant cook, and I cooked for the royal family, governments, dignitaries, it was busy but rewarding. And the standards were high.
When Charles and Diana came over, we made them a picnic lunch and later the Queen came over on the QE2 for an afternoon. Did we panic? Of course, inside, but outside? All was calm. We had a butler overseeing everything in the house – he laid out the governor’s clothes, co-ordinated his diary, and there was a personal secretary, chauffeur, and two housemaids responsible for food service, setting tables, cleaning and beds. I worked with the head cook in the kitchen as assistant cook. And it was a true scratch kitchen. I couldn’t have had better training if I’d tried.
Being an island, even though it’s a fairly big island, we were expected to produce great food with the old-fashioned ethic. Often we’d have evening cocktail parties for between 60 – 100 in the ballroom, sit down dinners, and daily breakfast, lunch and dinner was prepared for His Excellency and Lady Pillar – who I might add were beautiful people.
We had people coming from the UK on government visits, politicians, foreign dignitaries. The guest list seemed endless. Besides farming, the island’s second revenue was tax free banking, followed by tourism. I spent a lot of time working and lived in converted stables that had been turned into beautiful accommodation. On our nights off we would go out dancing and socialising at the local disco – but it was a great, family style environment. I was there a year and the governor’s tenure was finishing, the new governor was coming in, so the old helped me by being signatory to my Australian visa.
Australia looked beautiful, a happy, bright interesting place to be, and I was young and adventurous. ‘I come from the Land Down Under’ was on everywhere and the video was a siren call. I landed into Sydney and headed on a bus up to Townsville. It was at a Backpackers’ that I realised there was a huge shortage of chefs in 1988 because of Expo 88. I knew I’d be fine.
I landed my first job on Orpheus Island in far North Qld and the lifestyle was an exciting culture shock! I was doing 3 meals a day, handling split shifts, with time off in the afternoon spent on the beach sunbaking with the other staff. Then wanting to explore this big, sunny, crazy country, I teamed up with three other girls and we shared a car and camped all along the east coast down to Lake’s Entrance.
My fate took over then, for sure, and I met my husband, who was on a golfing holiday with three other friends. We have had a lot of great years together and ironically, we’ve lasted because we both work shift work – we were ships in the night and I guess that kept the relationship fresh. We both had days off during the week and we’d do stuff together.
“The injustice of that still sticks with me, and I want to encourage my students to speak up, and not accept shabby treatment, pay or conditions.”
I ended up working in Melbourne in city hotels and I moved over to Westpac, then as chef de partie at the RACV club, then Crown Casino as sous chef. Wow, when I look back at that! I was one of only two women in 60 sous chefs – and we were under 400 chefs. I was looking after cold larder, banqueting and I graduated to the Melbourne Business School kitchen as Executive chef.
This was an entirely different gig – it was more corporate with business people coming in to do MBAs. But saying that, it was interesting. We had guests in house to do Post Grad degrees from all over the Pacific region, so we really had to vary the food and be inventive. It’d be flat out – very busy – and then nothing, so it was a weird up and down trajectory, that’s for sure, but we had a great little team so it was always fun.
With itchy feet, I took a job at Sanctuary Lakes. I loved it, starting as a casual, needing a bit of down time, then it became full time, then Executive chef for a couple of years. We catered for weddings, christenings, wakes, cocktail parties, you name it. Every celebration you can think of. There was a café on the waterfront as well, every day was different, and I had a great supportive team. I loved it. But then I was faced with the usual issue – too many hours and no pay rise.
The injustice of that still sticks with me, and I want to encourage my students to speak up, and not accept shabby treatment, pay or conditions. So I left and became in 2005 – 2006 part of the team for the Commonwealth games kitchen for the athletes’ village. It was fantastic. We did pastry and cold larder in the village for the athletes, support teams and media. But there was so much more – we did everything. Catering for a pop up city like the Games is huge. It involves setting up all the systems, and we had to provide the nutritional breakdown for everything the athletes ate. So every dish had to be made in advance and then approved by a committee – which involved a massively large team. Executive chef was Walter Schlumberger. They opened the village 1 month before the start, and the numbers built rapidly with security, staff, then we moved into 15 days of 15,000 meals each day. But unlike what you’d think, it was a very warm and friendly environment so the athletes could relax after the intensity of the competition.
After the huge pressure of the Games, I took a job cooking for a private wealthy family, and at Etihad stadium as well, and went for my Certificate 4 Training and Assessment to teach vocational education, and was approved as a para-professional.
But for me, I decided I wanted to be fully skilled as a teacher, so studied for my Dip Ed in Technology Education while I was teaching full time in 2009. My role now is to support young secondary school students to lead into an apprenticeship in kitchen operation or pastry work at William Angliss. And I am also involved in Les Toques Blanches – a chefs’ group in Victoria – so through my contacts there I find work placements in venues for the schools students. How does that work? Well, they have to do 20 days a year work placement and 4 hours a week in the training kitchen for 33 weeks over two years and they come out with a Vocational Certificate of Applied Learning. We try to make it work both for the students and the industry, I guess the trick is to treat every placement as unique and back up the skills of the students so they can be flexible and mobile.
It’s always challenging, and with the skills shortage there’s added pressure on everyone. But we do the best we can with the funding and resources we have. My side interests are the environment – I grew up on a farm – and still have a passion for food security. I keep investigating and studying to reach a deep understanding of our food supply and waste. I find there’s huge gaps of knowledge in the industry, and a lot of chefs lack information about the sustainability of our food supply. The industry needs our smallest producers because they often have the passion to produce the best quality, what I call ‘pinnacle produce’ for the high end of the industry as much as the mass production farms – if we lose suppliers at that top end it will be a tragedy.
It’s so frustrating that our government often misses the knowledge of the full impact of the decisions they’re making. All they end up hearing from are the big lobby groups who skew information to suit their own ends. That’s another tragedy, and I’m pushing for the smaller and no less important producers to have a strong voice. To be heard.
I love the teaching – it can be challenging – you need to constantly challenge yourself to learn more to give more to students. And I’m passionate about students and teaching them the best I can. I do a heap of reading about the topics I’m teaching at a school in a low socio-economic area – so I’m keen to deliver to fit their needs and get them engaged.
I give them lots of advice about manual handling – teaching them to use the body as a tool, but in the right way so you don’t do long term damage. By golly that’s such an important area and so often overlooked. Bodies can be rebuilt, but at what cost? Prevention is so much better.
When I’m placing the students, I make sure they go to places with a good reputation for supporting young chefs – where the kids are respected, nurtured, mentored and encouraged. I will not tolerate any places that use them like machines. And how short sighted is that anyway?
This generation will get up and walk rather than cop it and you know what? It’s sad that older generations didn’t do that. We’d have an industry that was in much better shape. I find it frustrating that so often, careers counsellors see it as a last resort as well, so we get students with low self-esteem who’ve failed at everything else and see it as a last option, then we get others who fought their parents to get in. Or the other? Maybe it was the only course that wasn’t full yet. At the moment, the enrolments gender wise are 50/50 girls to boys, but it seems we send out more girls than boys in the end. The girls are more often still there at graduation time at the end of the apprenticeship. And that’s a shame. Kitchens need both, it’s just balance isn’t it?”
And with that, Sarah feels she has no more to add at the moment, and needs to get back to her class and push on. She raises some big questions, and is there, at the coal face, giving her all to the next generation of chefs, and helping them have the best start in what she hopes is a big career. It’s investment, isn’t it? And I get the feeling that Sarah Maric is fully invested, and will be for a long time. And we all should thank her for that.