Brisbane chef cooks up lifeline for Mongolian orphans

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 10th March 2011

A chef from Brisbane-based Hospitality Training Association Inc. (HTA) will this month travel to Mongolia to train teenage orphans in the hope of providing them with life-long skills and a regular source of income.

The Lotus Children’s Centre, based in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, is a non-profit, non-government organisation providing shelter, food and accommodation for up to 150 abused, orphaned and abandoned children at any one time.

As part of the initiative, HTA chef and trainer Paul Wilderbeek (Herston) will train older orphans and staff in cookery, allowing them to prepare better quality meals for themselves.

At the same time, the orphanage hopes to sell surplus products, such as baked goods, so they can buy more ingredients and raise additional income.

Mr Wilderbeek said the initiative would be a life-changing experience for him and for the students.

He said the training would provide basic job skills which could assist the teenage orphans gain future employment.

“There is already interest from an existing local bakery in hiring some of the people we train from this initiative so it seems there is a great need for this type of training,” he said.

“As Mongolia is a country where family is very important, children without family are immediately disadvantaged in the jobs market. Giving them a skill, even at a basic level by western standards, will give them greater possibility of employment.

“I expect to find conditions in the orphanage as very basic so even if we can make a small difference it will be enormously rewarding for us personally and for HTA.”

With more than three decades experience as a chef and baker working in five star hotels and his own artisan bakery, Mr Wilderbeek will initially teach the students about making bread and yeast products over a two week period. Subsequent visits by other HTA trainers Amanda Young and Kylie Simpson will build the students’ skills to include making pastry and other food.

HTA CEO Phillip Charlton said HTA trainers would make regular visits to the orphanage during the coming months.

“Rather than simply donate money, we saw a great opportunity to make a real difference by providing essential skills to these students and staff. Our world-class chefs are also experienced trainers who can provide them with the skills they need.

“It’s heartening to think that by upskilling these students and staff we can make a real difference in their lives; be it a healthier diet, a job, a means to add support to their organisation or just the ability to add variety to their daily meals.”