The Empower Culinary Hospitality School, Sri Lanka's premier culinary and hospitality facility, which creates new avenues for underprivileged and marginalised youth with empowerment through education in the gastronomy and hospitality industry of Sri Lanka was granted World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) recognition recently. WACS is a World Chefs body consisting of 10 million chefs and the Empower Culinary & Hospitality School is the only culinary training institute in Sri Lanka to hold this prestigious title.
The Empower Culinary & Hospitality School is an outcome of the philosophy of MJF Foundation Settlor Merrill J. Fernando that, business is a matter of human service. Founded on the principle that every individual has the ability to succeed and the right to that opportunity, the Empower Culinary & Hospitality School was established by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando to offer the underprivileged an opportunity to rise above their circumstances.
The WACS recognition comes in the wake of the graduation of its inaugural batch. The announcement was made by WACS Education Director, John Clancy during the gala graduation night, held on February 7, 2017 at the Empower Culinary & Hospitality School in the presence of 140 School Of Tea participants who have flown down to Sri Lanka from different parts of the world. During the event, John Clancy acknowledged that Empower Culinary & Hospitality School is an institute having a high standard of training and skills development to continue professional development. The citation recognises the development and delivery of the culinary training programme, to be on par with global standards.
"When WorldChefs were invited to assess the programme, we were absolutely delighted and honoured to do so and we spent some time going through the programme. The learning material that is there is just absolutely top class. The facilities are just exceptional; right down to the whole learning environment, the facilities upstairs for students where they can study on computers. There's an array of cookery books. It's still building and I really do believe that it is going to be an amazing success story. The word, 'empower' says so much," he emphasized.
Managed by an eminent team of Governors - Bernd Uber, Peter Kuruvita, Rohan Fernandopulle and Dilhan C Fernando, the school uses an intensive training method, to provide selected students -those with physical disabilities and youth from rural communities and the plantation sector in Sri Lanka with comprehensive knowledge and international perspectives on cuisine and hospitality. The four month culinary course offered by the school, totally free of charge, is equal to the best in the world with visiting international professionals supplementing the Sri Lankan faculty. Culinary empowerment spans the fundamentals of nutrition through personal discipline, English, cooking skills, information technology and menu planning.
Built to the standards of a commercialized kitchen, the culinary unit is equipped with the latest technology and kitchenware needed to train chefs in all areas, such as hot and cold cooking and baking. Not forgetting those that maybe wheelchair bound, it also includes a station which is specifically designed to allow their ease-of-access.
Elaborating on the philosophy behind the initiative, Merrill J Fernando said that, although Dilmah Tea is known worldwide for its quality, the philosophy that is driving Dilmah Single Origin Tea is little known.
"Dilmah is not just the best cup of tea but it is a cup that cheers the poor and the needy. I have made the poor look to Dilmah for various kinds of relief and support and the wealth I have acquired is going back to the poor. At the MJF Charitable Foundation, we have a variety of activities bringing hope and sunshine to the poor and the disabled. The school is another source of providing hope and happiness to the poor and the disabled. About 90% of the children who passed out came from our estates; children of tea pickers never had a hope of achieving such a position in life," he explained.
While acknowledging that WACS recognition is a very strong encouragement and validation, the Trustee of the MJF Charitable Foundation Dilhan C. Fernando spoke about the tangible difference the culinary course has brought about in the lives of the beneficiaries.
"Six months ago, these chefs knew nothing about cooking. We designed a four month boot camp method with the involvement of WACS, of committed people like Bernd Uber with input from Peter Kuruvita, from Rohan Fernandopulle, with the involvement of our chefs like Rajiv. What we did was then transform that a little more by insisting that these people, whilst they get completely free training, that we require of them their commitment. They start the day with physical exercise; they go on to learn English; they go on to learn computers. They are stretched beyond what they believe to be their capabilities. We extract, in those 4 months, their true ability, that is their true potential which each of has in whatever circumstance and then we are able to take them forward," he said.According to Dilhan C. Fernando, part of the course is three months apprenticeship. "If somebody else does not take them we take them into the leisure division which my brother runs. So they have the wonderful privilege of saying they have come from the plantations and they are choosing, from the finest of the 5 star properties of Sri Lanka, which one they will join. That shows the difference that knowledge can offer. How knowledge can take you from a completely underprivileged environment into something that is transformational," he added.
Sri Lankan family tea company Dilmah, founded by Merrill J. Fernando, today the world's most experienced teamaker, has championed quality, authenticity and variety in tea. Dilmah pioneered the concept of Single Origin Tea in 1988 when the family company went against industry trends to declare its commitment to authenticity. Garden fresh, unblended tea is a hallmark of Dilmah and offers a unique taste of unblended Ceylon tea packed at source - where it is grown.
Dilmah takes the lead in bringing innovation to a global tea category that has suffered decline as a result of commoditisation. Signature events such as the Chefs & the Teamaker and Real High Tea are innovations that seek to educate and inspire hospitality professionals to offer their guests a completely new tea experience. The Dilmah School of Tea seeks to inspire passion in tea through knowledge of the artisanal aspects of tea amongst hospitality professionals, tea aficionados and consumers. The emphasis is on the importance of Real Tea and the versatility of this natural herb in Tea Gastronomy, food pairing and Tea Mixology.
Dilmah is Ethical Tea, in that all packaging profits are retained in Sri Lanka and fund the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation. We believe that Business is a Matter of Human Service.
Merrill J. Fernando
As a very young man, he saw firsthand, how producers and their workers were exploited. He was inspired to believe that, one day he will have his own brand, which would be of finest Single Origin tea, in 100% Pure Ceylon Tea and share his profits with the poor. He laughed at himself of his impossible dream. From then until now, tea has become a cheap commodity, sold by heavily advertised and promoted brand names by trading companies. Consumers have to pay for brand names and not for quality.
Thirty four years after his impossible dream, he decided to launch his own brand. In his first press interview in Australia prior to the launch, he said, today, tea is a cheap commodity, I will bring integrity back to tea, by naming my brand "DILMAH", after my two children- Dilhan and Malik, in Single Origin tea, as opposed to multi origin commoditized tea; the finest on the market and sharing profits with the poor and the disabled.
Merrill launched, garden fresh, unblended, Single Origin Pure Ceylon tea, grown and packed at source, fully value added and branded. In doing so, he retained all the profits from branding and marketing, in his country. Until then, tea producers and workers watched in pain and anger, their raw sweat and toil enriching traders in rich nations, while they remained poor. In carrying out the full process of value addition and branding, right where tea is grown, every packet of Dilmah tea became the world's first ethically produced tea and it remains so, even today. Dilmah is globally renowned for the finest quality tea and for its philosophy of caring and sharing. The brand was established on Merrill's unique philosophy of making business a matter of human service, a pledge that is fulfilled through MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation.
MJF Charitable Foundation
The MJF Charitable Foundation was established by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando, to fulfill his commitment to make his family business a matter of human service. MJF Charitable Foundation, changes over 10,000 thousand lives each year. All companies in the MJF Group, contribute 10% of their profits before tax, to the Foundation. Merrill does not accept donations and believes charity must be forthcoming strictly, from his personal resources.