Each year, the Stonehouse family generously funds the Wesley Stonehouse Scholarship* for select Cookery and Patisserie students from Box Hill Institute. This allows students to travel and work in Vietnam for four weeks gaining cultural and work experience that is credited towards study requirements. Students work in various roles at the KOTO (Know One Teach One) restaurant in Hanoi, which is a Box Hill Institute training partner.
On their return from Vietnam, the students cook a meal for the Stonehouse family and give a presentation outlining their experiences. This year, the students lucky enough to win the Wesley Stonehouse Scholarship were Certificate III in Hospitality (Commercial Cookery) students Duc Tan Dang and Gabrielle Raftopoulos. They prepared Pho Cuon, spiced honey pork belly, and a rice noodle salad for Wesley’s father Dr Noel Stonehouse, mother Rosemarie, sister Claire and brother Lachlan, as well as Box Hill Institute staff involved in the program.
Duc has been a cook for 17 months and says the best piece of advice he’s been given is to travel and learn, and to never forget where you come from. It’s the reason he applied for the Wesley Stonehouse Scholarship. He said, “I was born in Vietnam, on a little fishing island called Phu Quoc, which is now a booming tourist destination. My family and I migrated to Australia when I was three.
“All I know about Southern Vietnamese cuisine comes from family, but mostly my mum. Before the trip, I had never been to Hanoi and knew very little about Northern Vietnamese food. Now I understand Vietnamese cuisine a whole lot better,” he said.
Gabrielle decided to apply for Wesley Stonehouse Scholarship to gain experience working in another country. She said, “I thought it would benefit my understanding of a new cuisine. Before travelling to Vietnam, I did a little bit of research but to be honest, I really didn’t know too much. I just sort of threw myself into another country. Vietnam was always on my bucket list to travel to and it definitely lived up to my expectations. It is a very beautiful, lively place.”
Duc and Gabrielle spent two weeks working in KOTO and a week working in its sister restaurant, Pots n’ Pans. KOTO helps disadvantaged youth from 16-22 and teaches them hospitality and English skills in a two year program. The students eat, sleep, live and study together. They study three days and go to work for three days, which allows them better job prospects and a chance of a brighter future.
Gabrielle said, “There are practical kitchens teaching cooking skills; there are rooms teaching front of house skills such as how to set tables, carry plates, and how to converse with customers when serving in a restaurant environment.
“This program gives the students a new lease on life; a fresh start and has very positive results. These kids always smile, always laugh; are always happy. They have the opportunity to do anything now, go anywhere; the chance that they didn’t have before. You can see how much this organisation has changed their lives and how much they appreciate it,” she said.
Duc said, “The training restaurant at KOTO is small, tight, and crowded with at least 12 or more in the kitchen at one time. It’s very fast paced.
“The students are all switched on and know how to hustle, which was amazing to see. The food is focused on Vietnamese street food and Western staples such as sandwiches, burgers and pasta,” he said.
Pots n’ Pans is a fine-dining Vietnamese fusion restaurant opened by a KOTO alumnus. Duc said, “The kitchen was crowded and it was up four flights of stairs, making the decision to either wear an apron or faint from perspiration, a difficult conundrum.
“At Pots n’ Pans, there was more attention to detail, and the opportunity to work with more luxurious produce such as beef from Australia and cod from Canada,” he said.
An aspect that Duc particularly enjoyed about working in Vietnam was that staff would sit down together and share a family meal for lunch and dinner. He said there is a big emphasis on this and it is an important part of the culture to ensure everyone is fed well for the toil of the day.
Duc said, “It is a golden age for the culinary arts, where many great individuals are pushing the boundaries of what goes onto the plate, but more importantly we are now also focusing on the bigger issues that transcend the plate.
“Cooking is one of my greatest joys in this life. Being a cook is a vocation rather than a career; I never would have thought that I would be able to do what I love whilst volunteering and doing some good, especially in the land of my birth. I would like to give gratitude to the Wesley Stonehouse family, for giving me this opportunity to not only grow as a cook, but also an individual. It is heart-warming to know that through this scholarship, Wesley’s legacy and way of life is honoured,” he said.
Gabrielle is keen to return to Asia and learn more about its culinary arts. She said, “Over the last two years, I have fallen in love with Asia, its culture, lifestyle and food. I would love to work in Singapore one day. It is such a brilliant place with many opportunities. I would love to take my career there and gain experience in another Asian culture.”
After enjoying the meal Duc and Gabrielle had prepared and listening to their presentation, Dr Noel Stonehouse said, “Every time we come here, students prove that it’s a good thing to do.”
The Wesley Stonehouse Scholarship will be offered to students again in 2017. Duc’s words of advice for anyone considering applying are, “Just go for it. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, which turned into a life-changing experience for me. There is nothing to lose in applying, and so much to gain from the experience.”
Gabrielle agrees. She said, “For students applying for this internship next year or are considering applying, please do it for yourself. It is so eye opening, so rewarding and so memorable. It was one of the best choices I’ve made for a very long time.
“I would just like to say a massive thank you to the whole Stonehouse family for giving me this brilliant opportunity to experience another country in such a special way. I will forever remember my time in Vietnam and hopefully plan on returning in the very near future,” she said.
*Wesley Stonehouse (1972-2010) spent 20 years travelling and working in hospitality across the world, working closely with local and international people to ensure excellence in customer experience. He was committed to learning about local practices, particularly about food and the importance of it in bringing people together.