Kylie Armstrong, Larissa McDonald and Braden Lamb turned their love of cooking into a career, thanks to Horowhenua Learning Centre and now have a job cooking at the local RSA.

They plan to bring fine dining to the RSA, which continues to thrive and has now rebranded its restaurant and menu with extended opening hours.

Finding three new, young, local chefs just out of school with big dreams was a major coup for the Levin RSA and crucial in realising its plan to re-energise its hospitality services.

Braden, Kylie and Larissa all love cooking and found over the years their friends and family loved what they put on the table. A year ago they decided to go back to school to become chefs. By the end of the year they also had a local job.

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Larissa had worked in kitchens before and all three have parents who worked in hospitality and recognised their offsprings' passion and talent for good food.

The Levin RSA is counting its lucky stars and its many volunteers are happy to give their new chefs freedom to experiment and come up with new ideas for menus.

Experienced chef Michael Stutchbury clocked up 30 years in the navy and said he has cooked for kings and queens as well as prisoners and guard dogs. And he was the man in charge of the revamping of the RSA kitchen, a big job.

"We had to work out how the machinery worked, what needed repair and then find spare parts. Not to mention sorting out systems to have a smooth operation," said Gabrielle Kinnel, who is the secretary to the RSA's executive committee.

The restaurant has room for 100 but the building can if necessary cater for over 400.

"We wanted a modern and upmarket restaurant that can take us into the future," she said.

For Kylie the RSA job was a logical next step where she can grow as a chef, make suggestions and come up with new menus, though she describes herself as a dessert girl. Braden says he can do everything needed.

His mum encouraged him into cooking as she was a chef and recognised his talent early on, but the lure of a well-paying job at the meatworks, among other things, delayed his plans for a few years.

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The three worked together while studying and Larissa told Braden about the job opening.
Larissa found the job via HLC and Mr Stutchbury said he immediately recognised her passion.

"The fact that she won a bronze medal last year played a role in her getting the job. But she also brings great leadership skills."

Larissa said the three new chefs form a good team which works together well.

The RSA will soon be looking for more staff: they need a front of house person (20 hours a week), bar staff (10 hours a week) and an office administrator (20 hours a week). Both jobs have potential for increased hours as this is just the beginning for the RSA's Poppy Restaurant.

While previously the food was provided by a catering service the club is now taking charge itself and has a large number of volunteers. They can now afford to employ staff for various jobs.

"There will be a new menu with extended opening hours. We plan to serve meals rather than bar snacks and want to make up dishes," said Mr Stutchbury.

Larissa is the head chef and won a bronze medal at the Wellington Culinary Fair in May last year.

For now the restaurant is open only to RSA members and their guests, though the restaurant is available for functions.

"We plan to set up a separate restaurant with its own licence so it can be open to the public," said Mrs Kinnel. "It is a very exciting development."

The Levin RSA restaurant will relaunch on January 27 and every first Saturday of the month will offer fine dining.

The hours have also increased. Tuesday: pensioners lunch (Gold Card required) 11.30-1pm; Wednesday: club night 4.30-7.30; Thursday dinner 4.30-7pm; Friday Club night 4-8pm; Saturday fine dining 5.30-8.30; Sunday lunch 11.340am – 1pm There will also be a Mid Winter Solstice dinner on June 22.