The Empower Culinary & Hospitality School, Sri Lanka's premier culinary and hospitality facility with World Association of Chefs' Societies (WACS) recognition, 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 school uses an intensive training method, to provide selected students with comprehensive knowledge and international perspectives on cuisine and hospitality. The four month culinary course offered by the school 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. Students are selected from the applicants based on their enthusiasm for knowledge, their commitment to hard work and their desire to succeed as chefs.
The school felicitated its inaugural batch consisting 13 young chefs at a gala graduation night held on February 7 at the Empower Culinary & Hospitality School premises. Witnessing this milestone in their lives were Governors of the School - Bernd Uber, Peter Kuruvita, Rohan Fernandopulle, the Education Director World Association of Chef’s Societies (WACS) John Clancy, 140 odd participants who have flown down to Sri Lanka from different parts of the world to attend the Dilmah School of Tea 2017, Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando, his two sons Dilhan C. Fernando and Malik J. Fernando and the parents of the graduating batch.
The event had two special awards being presented to R. Vijeyakumara and K. Danushan for their excellent performance at the final evaluation.
Nineteen year old R. Vijeyakumara from Kahawatte plantation was chasing a dream from the day he enrolled for culinary training. His dream was to be like Celebrity Chef, Peter Kuruvita someday. What inspired this young boy was a personal message from Peter Kuruvita featured in the form of a short video clip at the introductory session. Four months after, at the end of the culinary training, this aspiring chef graduated from the Empower Culinary & Hospitality School, on February 7 with a distinction pass.
Walking up to the stage, attired in a chef's jacket to receive his special award, made him feel that he has taken another step towards achieving his 'dream,' Vijeyakumara says.
The young graduate K. Danushan's thoughts reflect the positive influence the culinary school has on the lives of underprivileged youth.
"Until I came here, I never knew that there are this many opportunities in the culinary filed. I studied up to Grade 11. Although I managed to pass my G.C.E O/Ls, it was not with good results. So I wanted to get into vocational training. Now I know that, being a chef is an exciting career. During the training here, I got to see the standards of the international chefs who trained us. It was motivating to see how far they have gone in life in this industry. My ambition is to become an executive chef and work abroad. I felt so proud when I heard my name announced as a recipient of a special award," says Danushan adding that his parents getting to witness this special moment was important to him as it was for the first time that they got to see him achieving something.
When the first batch of culinary students first joined the culinary school, they were without any exposure or knowledge in the field of culinary art. After months of hands on training at the Centre's state of the art training facility, working with leading chefs from across the world, the students have gained an international perspective on cuisine and hospitality. Working with the international chefs and to have met their expectations, turned out to be a novel experience for the culinary batch. Notably, the students also undertook the challenge to prepare a three course menu for the guests attending the graduation night- a menu which John Clancy acknowledged to be "absolutely exceptional."
These young chefs who are stepping out of the Empower Culinary & Hospitality School as graduates will be further assisted to progress in their culinary journey with opportunities to join an establishment to follow internships within MJF Charitable Foundation, Dilmah or hotels, restaurants and other hospitality operators.
Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando who addressed the gathering said, "Dilmah Tea is known worldwide for its quality. That's not my achievement of Ceylon Tea. What is little known is the philosophy that is driving Dilmah Tea. At the MJF Charitable Foundation, we have a variety of activities bringing hope to poor and the underprivileged. About two years ago we set up the Culinary School with the idea to provide hospitality training. The school is another source of providing hope and happiness to the underprivileged. About 90% of the students who passed out came from our estates. Children of tea pickers; they never had a hope of achieving such a position in life."
The Governor Rohan Fernandopulle who spoke at the event said; "Today we celebrate the passing out of a very special group of students and champion their possibilities and capabilities. I am so proud and happy to be a part of something that has always been so close to my heart. First batch of students who interned at Waters Edge worked side by side with the chefs to create dishes that can be placed at any great restaurant in Sri Lanka. I was with these kids and I was amazed to see the creativity and ability of some of these young kids. I am sure some of them will end up as executive chefs in future. I am immensely proud to have contributed in my own small way to the success of this programme."
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.