Crowning 30 new ambitious chefs, who are ready take up their first step as professionals in the hospitality industry, the certificate awarding ceremony of the 9th Batch of West and the 4th Batch of East - Empower Culinary and Hospitality School (ECHS) of Dilmah’s MJF Charitable Foundation was successfully held recently. Among its other initiatives the MJF Charitable Foundation, funded by the earnings from Dilmah Tea, established the Empower Culinary and Hospitality School (ECHS) in 2017 in Moratuwa and in 2019 in Kalkudah. The culinary schools aimed to offer free education, life skills and practical hospitality industry knowledge to empower young women and men from marginalized communities. 228 young chefs have graduated from the two Schools to date with fresh batches now in training. The tea company embarked on this ambitious initiative with the support of Governors including Sri Lankan Chef Rohan Fernandopulle, Australians Bernd Uber & Peter Kuruvita, Irishman John Clancy in fulfillment of Merrill J. Fernando’s wish to serve humanity through his Dilmah Tea business. 

Recalling his humble beginning and the success he has achieved over the years, Merrill Fernando addressed the students at the event saying, “I started small but with faith in God, commitment and dedication, everything worked out well. That urged me to do more. Amongst many things I have done in my life, my Foundation and its service of less fortunate people is one of the most successful ventures that has touched many lives. For everyone - sharing your success with others will make you happier everyday”. 

In a very challenging year with the pandemic and several lock downs, the young chefs were fully trained without compromising the quality of the programme. The 5-month intensive course at the ECHS covers theoretical and practical knowledge on culinary, hygiene and health, IT, gardening and English. These young men and women had the privilege of working and learning from some of the best-in-the-world chefs during their programme facilitating an unparalleled exposure only because of Dilmah and its commitment towards creating a humanitarian impact on empowering communities. 

The Empower Schools have unique curricula, nurturing life skills, as well as culinary skill. The young men and women, including several with down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism in addition to typical youth, are taught basic agriculture, self-discipline, sustainability, presentation and the importance of practice and perfection in the art of cooking and in life. In celebration of the successful completion of the course, the Certificate Awarding of East and West Schools took place in the same venue for the first time in ECHS history making it a memorable event and was followed by a high tea at the ECHS kitchen with some exciting live culinary demo of the young chefs. 

“Never be afraid to follow your dream and work hard to be the best you can be in life and in your career as a professional chef”, John Clancy - Chef John Clancy – ECHS Governor and Global Director for Education at Worldchefs.

Over 5 years Dilmah’s ECHS, the only World Chefs accredited culinary school in Sri Lanka, has empowered and groomed 228 young men and women to enhance their skill set and molded them into become professionals in the industry and to start their own enterprises. Amongst them are youth from different underprivileged upbringings ranging from absence of guardians, financial difficulties, individuals with disabilities and creative minds from remote corners of the country. Up to today about 68% students have come from families with a monthly household income less than Rs.30,000. Validating success of the program, almost all the students from the current graduating batch have found employment in the industry or have started their own businesses.  This culinary programme has given them hope for a new life.

“Your big challenge is before you now, by working in the real world. Not all of you will be employed in five-star hotels or fancy restaurants. Some of you will find very satisfying work in hospitals, canteens or in a food store in your local village. Important is, that you wherever you might work, to treat your food, your customers and colleagues respectfully”, Bernd Uber – ECHS Governor & Black Hat Chef, Australia. 

The ECHS alumni is spread across various world-renowned hotel chains locally and overseas. Nethmi from Kalkudah, who was from their very first batch and currently working at Dilmah Tea Trails is one of the many success stories at the ECHS. In March 2022, Nethmi was selected among the Top 15 Outstanding Recipes of Dilmah Tea Inspired Dessert International Competition being the first Sri Lankan. And Dilki from Katubedda who was from the 7th batch, has now started her own dessert business with her learnings from the school. 

Dilmah, as a family business that values people and nature above all, kindness is at the heart of every activity. Apart from the ECHS, Dilmah’s MJF Foundation serves different communities through its Small Entrepreneurship Programme, Women’s Development, MJF Kids and numerous other programmes that impact communities with 6000 contact points daily through its various platforms touching the lives and hearts of individuals with disabilities and kids, women and youth from vulnerable communities across Sri Lanka. 

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