James Sayer was about three when his father, a qualified chef, would put him outside the restaurant during service time to busk.

Sayer remembers singing songs and rapping for cash after his old man had taken him inside and shown him around the kitchen earlier in the day.

Sayer grew up on Waiheke Island and when he was much older, he was advised that things weren't working out too well for him at school, so he left.

However, his passion for food remained.


"I've been in hospitality for about 12 years. I started at a place called Stonyridge Vineyard and worked my way up to a kitchen position after starting out dishwashing," Sayers says.

"After I left there, I decided to get into coffee."

Sayer worked as a barista for seven or eight years until he decided to get back behind the grill, working as a cook and a bartender in Auckland.

Suddenly, Sayer got the itch to take his talents overseas, but having never studied and learned all of his skills on-the-job, he was lacking in qualifications.

So the Whanganui-born 27-year-old decided to return home to study at UCOL's Whanganui campus where he took on the level four Certificate in Cookery.

He passed the course and attended UCOL's Whanganui graduation ceremony at the Royal Wanganui Opera House on Friday.

In attendance were Whanganui's share of 1950 new graduates across all of UCOL's campuses also including Manawatū, Wairarapa and Horowhenua.

The largest graduating group in Whanganui were those that studied the New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education.


Sayer said he enjoyed his time back home.

"My family's here and I've found it to be a nice place. It's a relaxing environment and it's an escape from the big smoke, from the rat race that was Auckland.

"It's quite a headache up there, Whanganui's been like a holiday."

Having passed the course, Sayer gained the international city and guilds qualification which is recognised for overseas work.

He dreams of working in Southeast Asia and has plans to start out in Alabama in the United States of America with a friend at the end of the year.

Sayer said that he knew from as early on as those moments entertaining folks on Waiheke that he wanted to be a part of the hospitality industry.


"Hospitality workers become like a second family, at least they do when it comes to the jobs that I have done.

"The last place I worked at, The Citadel out in Castlecliff, I've got their emblem tattooed on my wrist.

"The environment is high-pressure, it's high-stress and it's challenging, but it's rewarding."