The National Indigenous Culinary Institute’s two merit students embarked on a culinary journey of a lifetime in April 2015.

Thanks to Virgin Australia, Ashleigh and Ryan departed Sydney on the way to London on Friday 4th April. After a bumpy ride and a few small setbacks, the pair arrived safely in England via a short stop in Dubai.

Both Ashleigh and Ryan were very impressed with the ACCOR Ibis Hotel as they checked in and discussed there coming adventure.

Neil Perry of the Rockpool Group made arrangements for Ashleigh and Ryan to spend a week each in both the Ledbury and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

The Ledbury’s Brett Graham began his cooking career in Newcastle, Australia. It has been under Brett’s guidance that the restaurant has gained many accolades including the much-coveted second Michelin Star.

Both of the NICI graduates where enthralled with the dynamic way the restaurant kitchen was organised. Ashleigh said, “Everything, down to the design of the plates was addressed around creativity design dinning.” “It was an amazing experience to work in a restaurant that only has one sitting per service”.
The restaurant prides itself on not wasting any produce. They make this possible by ordering to numbers not by the kg. The minimal waste that does occur is recycled to be used as compost on the restaurants herb garden.

Both Ashleigh and Ryan gained an amazing experience from working with the staff at the Ledbury and have gained skills they will be able to bring back to Australia.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal explorers Britain’s gastronomic past.
The restaurant is located inside the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel, which allows the kitchen to have ample facilities and space for preparation.
“The menu was something I have never seen or even imagined before.” “The food was designed around the 15th Century. They had a historian help with the menu design,” said Ryan.
The team was very professional and worked superbly together. They have made the food not only with superior taste but technology that has the dinners involved in the dish.

Both of the NICI graduates had time to immerse themselves in the London Scene. “We looked around at the buildings, jumped on and off the hop on hop off bus; we both could not believe the history in the city” Ashleigh.

The ability of both Ryan, who works at Catalina restaurant and Ashleigh, who works at Rockpool Bar and Grill under NICI Culinary Guardians Michael McMahon and Neil Perry where able to demonstrate the skills they have gained during their two and a half year cookery program participation with the NICI.
During this culinary tour it has given both of the NICI graduates an excellent taste of international cookery, in which they have been able to gain proficiencies in techniques not currently being used in Australian restaurants.

“This trip has made the hard work and long hours over the past two and a half years’ worth every second.” said Ashleigh. Ryan noted “As an Indigenous person I never thought I would have the opportunity to work in a restaurant like Catalina but then to win the NICI student of merit award which was presented by the Hon Prime Minster Tony Abbott and then head to England has changed my life for the better”.

The NICI is an industry inspired and initiated program of national significance designed to create highly skilled Indigenous chefs.
The NICI offers elite training and experience for aspiring Indigenous chefs who will be trained and mentored by Australia’s top chefs at host restaurants such as Café Sopra, Rockpool Bar and Grill, QT, China Lane, Aria, Icebergs Bar and Grill and Catalina. Up to twelve leading Sydney based chefs act as Culinary Guardians to the Indigenous apprentice chefs.

Designed by Neil Perry, Guillaume Brahimi, Michael McMahon, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack, Barry McDonald and Cain Slater, the three-year program combines unique on‐the‐job training with a contemporary industry designed qualification. Our apprentice chef program aims to produce a group of chefs trained in Australia’s top restaurants who will be role models and leaders for up and coming Indigenous trainees.

For more information on the program on the program please visit or phone 0414 696 025