A seismic shift for food & wine school

By Joelle Thomson

Canterbury's February earthquake has resulted in a move north for Celia Hay and her School of Food & Wine.

Celia Hay moved her School of Food and Wine to Auckland following the Christchurch quake. Photo / Natalie Slade
Celia Hay moved her School of Food and Wine to Auckland following the Christchurch quake. Photo / Natalie Slade

The lingering aroma of stale rubbish is a potent reminder to Celia Hay of the day she and her teenage boys, Oliver and Daniel, swooped into their earthquake-ravaged apartment to collect as many valuables as they could carry after the Christchurch earthquake on February 22. The stale smell still taints the family car; a less than pretty aromatic reminder of a bag of rubbish they also took out with them.

Within minutes, the earthquake had destroyed not only their home but also their restaurant, Hay's, and the NZQA-registered food and wine school Hay began in 1995.

Five minutes' walk away, the historic stone building, Cranmer Court, built at the same time as Christchurch Cathedral in which she and her two teenagers and younger daughter lived, was destroyed. In a matter of minutes her income was cut off, her children's schools closed, her elderly mother's rest home ruined and, along with thousands of other Cantabrians, Hay had no idea of what the future held.

Ten months later, she is living in a rented apartment in Auckland with the 12 banana boxes of possessions she and her sons rescued from their home.

"We just had to not think about the stuff we left behind.

"When we went into our apartment, we walked in and thought, 'Right, what do I want here? What doesn't matter? We got the things of value but there's a lot of furniture there still rotting," she says, of the apartment, which is cordoned off and completely unliveable.

Hay swiftly decided to move to Auckland to re-establish her school in order to keep the business alive. After 16 years trading, this seemed like a natural progression of her Christchurch business which reflected the growing demand for wine education.

"The earthquake was such a life-changing event that it would be fair to say people up here have no idea of the consequences of having your home destroyed and your equity decimated overnight.

"Your life's work is gone in many instances and it's easy to forget that it's not over. For me, the biggest issue is the insurance nightmare as a consequence," she says.

Be that as it may, Hay is ambitiously re-establishing her business, the New Zealand School of Food & Wine, in Auckland. In November she signed a lease on part of a building in Customs St West.

Back in Christchurch, the building she owns in Victoria St, which houses Hay's restaurant on the ground floor and the New Zealand School of Food & Wine upstairs, is affected by liquefaction and cracks.

"We had this cosy little life in Christchurch where our home was five minutes' from work, the boys could walk to Christ's College and we lived in this beautiful historic building.

"I've been told the building could be renovated but now they're telling us they won't know until March, and how can you make plans on that basis?

"The issue with insurance is that if you don't renovate then you only get the indemnity or depreciated value paid out when you claim. In some cases this is not much and can never pay off your debts."

Given the situation, she plans to renovate the rented floor of her new school in Auckland in preparation for courses to start in February.

"We have something special to offer Aucklanders and also attract international students in a way we wouldn't be in a position to do in Christchurch, so there is, hopefully, a silver lining," she says.

That something special is a range of tailored courses in hospitality business management, cookery, barista training, wine and bar knowledge. Not only are the courses NZQA-registered, but the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses that she runs (Intermediate and Advanced Awards) are aligned to the British Qualifications Authority. In Britain, the WSET courses are an industry standard which those working with wine, beer or spirits are expected to obtain.

"We got accredited in 2004 to teach the WSET programmes, which I have incorporated into the Certificate in Professional Wine Knowledge. It includes both intermediate and advanced WSET as well as our Food Safety unit standards and Licence Controller Qualification," says Hay.

"I want people to enjoy the transformational power of learning, in the sense that it shakes them out of their world. Wine is an amazing example because people get a geography lesson, a cultural lesson and the tasting component. That is very exciting. It shakes us out of our complacency of thinking only New Zealand wine is good - and it's fun," she says.

"Taking the time to learn is key. Sitting down and not having to cram but doing it in a structured and gradual way gives students a much better understanding and outcome in the end. I'm coming at it from the best educational angle. You need quality study and review time to retain knowledge. We take a disciplined approach - spit, taste, write notes - and learn because there is something to refer back to."

The cooking classes have given Hay some of her biggest educational break-throughs.

"It has been very interesting to me to discover how much of a problem dyslexia is in New Zealand. Many of my cookery students have been dyslexic and not known it. The education system has failed them because it hasn't been picked up. There is this dissonance between their innate talent and what they can write," she says.

"Many have struggled through the education system, often had no help and then not got School Certificate or NCEA and fallen into average jobs, losing confidence.

"In cookery they have the ability to shine in a creative and artistic way; that's why there are many people who are dyslexic in the cooking world. Famous examples include Marco Pierre-White and Jamie Oliver.

"I want to help people understand better their own ability and talents, then to build that confidence in their jobs."

As this interview draws to a close, Hay's oldest son, Oliver, removes a dessert from the oven; it's the prototype for a meal the two of them are to prepare in Korea for a group of food and wine students there.

"Many people in Asia are interested in learning about wine. It reflects the aspirational aspect of wine," says Hay, in characteristic straightforward manner.

"Significant growth for NZSFW in Auckland will come from overseas groups. I am currently writing quotes for groups from Italy and Germany, who would stay for two to four weeks and visit vineyards as well as study at our new school.

"The exciting thing is that by coming first and studying with us for a week they have learnt which grape varieties to look out for, so they have a foundation of knowledge they can then go and see in the vineyard and, in turn, fall in love with New Zealand wine. It's good for tourism too."

* The New Zealand School of Food & Wine is now open for enrolments for 2012 courses online.

- NZ Herald

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