From new New Zealander in 2015, to being offered a dream opportunity at an award-winning winery restaurant in 2021, Renz Reneil Condino has set his feet firmly on the path to success through hard work and equipping himself with the right training for his career – he’s a recent graduate from Southern Institute of Technology’s School of Hospitality and Cookery.
Renz moved to New Zealand from the Philippines with his family in 2015. His father was already working on a dairy farm in South Otago so the whole family settled there. Renz entered South Otago High School in Year 10, which allowed him a couple of years to acclimatise to NZ life, make friends and get accustomed to the education system.
It was during his last year at high school, Renz spent Fridays at Otago Polytechnic doing a cookery class and realised he had a passion for it. Not only did he discover Cookery was what he wanted to pursue, Renz also found out he had a talent for it, finishing the year with the award for Best Student on the course.
“I was so happy to get the award because I didn’t know if I was good enough,” he said.
After finishing high school Renz enrolled in Cookery at SIT and moved to Invercargill to continue studying. “Invercargill is a better place, I’ve made a lot of friends here, it has good produce, it’s the place to be. It’s also close to my family who are still in Balclutha,” he said.
He committed to two years of study; in year one he covered Cookery Level 3 and Level 4, then moved onto the more advanced Level 5, completing the one year course at the end of 2021.
Aside from the obvious cookery training at SIT, Renz learnt and developed a wide range of skills and knowledge which will stand him in good stead in his future career: time management, how to do food costing, wine pairing with food, modern cooking methods and techniques e.g. using chemicals, hotel management, how to problem solve, how to empower staff and more.“I have a better understanding on how to run a restaurant, how to do food control, pretty much everything about how a restaurant works.”
“I learned and improved my researching skills – that was around how to refine our dishes by looking for better techniques, ingredients and cooking options,” said Renz.
“I picked up a lot of information – I’ve improved a lot from my first day to my last - I can tell I have evolved.”
Renz said he particularly enjoyed learning from different chefs who’d studied at SIT, they would come to class and give advice to the students. He also enjoyed the time spent in the training kitchen with his classmates, they would throw around ideas and give each other support and feedback.
Outside of class, Renz spent all his spare time working in local restaurants, continuing to develop his skills and connect with other chefs. “I find working and learning so inspiring, I get happy and excited every time I learn something new... I’ve had the chance to work with amazing people here in Invercargill.”
Renz’s current employer, Scott Wysockyj, Head Chef and owner of the Beach House Restaurant in Riverton has become an important mentor; he credits Wysockyj with not only teaching him classic cooking techniques, but also, “He’s taught me how to push myself everyday to be better,” he said.
Southland chef Ethan Flack – who had a successful ten-year career in the UK in Michelin-starred restaurants, has also made a big impact on Renz; they met at the Famous Chefs Luncheon in 2021, where students had the chance to work under the tutelage of some New Zealand’s best chefs – the culinary event was held at SIT, utilising the kitchen facilities and The Bungalow restaurant – SIT’s training restaurant.
Renz gained valuable work experience in Flack’s business and the knowledgeable chef mentored him as well.
“He took us Elderflower harvesting, he taught us how to ferment and pickle foods, how you always have to taste the food to master flavours, and how to use local produce to tell the story of local farmers and growers. The thing I’m proudest of from working with Ethan is using local produce – it may be more expensive at the market but it tastes different.”
He explained the point was proved by getting the students to compare the taste of locally produced milk with a bottle from the supermarket – “I was shocked at the taste difference, the local one was so much richer and the supermarket one was watery. From that time on I said to myself, I need to spend more time with Ethan. He gave me the realisation about how to be a chef – I have great respect for him, he’s a great mentor.”
Renz said getting to work with people who have much more experience than you is the way to gain experience and having the chance to work with different chefs is key – each one has different knowledge and skills to pass on, said Renz. “I’m enjoying taking my time to soak up the knowledge and learn different skills.”
And to put the icing on the cake, Renz finished his training with a good news story culminating in the chance of a lifetime job opportunity: just after graduation, Renz and his classmate and best friend Davin Bonny had the opportunity to help out at a local food function in conjunction with the Southern Pioneers Food Hub - Glenn Stridiron Programme Manager, School of Hospitality / Cookery got the graduates involved and was also at the event. In attendance was Vaughan Mabee, Executive Chef at Amisfield Restaurant & Winery and Cuisine Chef of the Year 2019/2020.
After working with and watching the graduates shuck, clean and slice 150 juvenile paua, Mabee was impressed with their work ethic and gave both Renz and Davin job offers to work as Commis Chefs at Amisfield. Needless to say, there were two overjoyed graduates and a very proud programme manager on the day.
“SIT is the ticket – if you want to go and work in the big places, SIT is the best place to start learning”, said Renz. “It will help you shape your future, after you graduate you are then able to apply your learning.”
With a number of goals for his career as a chef, Renz has an interesting future mapped out: he wants to spend time learning more in his craft as well as be an ambassador for local produce, utilising the quality food available in the region. He wants to mentor other young chefs the way he’s been mentored. He would like to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant to learn more about fine dining and work with creative people at that level. Another goal is to showcase cuisine from his roots, back in the Philippines. “I want to return to the Philippines someday and connect with native food, then come back to New Zealand and share it with Kiwis.”