Rural students serving up inspiration at the Sydney Royal Easter Show

A trip to the famous Sydney Royal Easter Show gave a group of students from Mullumbimby High School a taste of life in the kitchen.

Image: Students working on their hospitality skills at the Royal Easter Show

Sometime pre-COVID, Kelly Spilstead, then Deputy Principal at Mullumbimby High School, responded to an Expression of Interest (EOI) that the department’s Rural and Remote Strategy team had posted on SchoolBiz.

The team was calling for students from regional areas to work at the Rural Students’ Café at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, something Kelly thought would be a great opportunity for her students. Of course, the pandemic hit a few months later and the show was cancelled for the first time since the Second World War.

Fast-forward a year and the Rural and Remote team got back in touch with Kelly to see if she and her students were still interested in participating. The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’

“We had to move pretty quickly. It was a case of, ‘we’re booking flights tomorrow, who’s interested?’” says Kelly. One of the first hands to go up belonged to another teacher at the school, Leah Samios, who jumped in straight away.

Nine students jumped at the opportunity to sharpen their hospitality skills at the Sydney Royal, an event that attracts thousands of visitors every day. (This year, organisers capped daily crowd numbers at 60,000). In a matter of days, a group of wide-eyed Year 11 students from Mullumbimby were boarding a flight to Sydney.

“It was an exciting opportunity for the students, some of whom hadn’t been on a plane or visited Sydney before,” says Kelly.

After touching down, the students made their way out to Sydney Olympic Park. VET in Schools arranged for the group to stay at a hotel near the Showground, which meant that students could walk to and from the Rural Students’ Café each day. With the hotel costs all covered, students could focus on the job at hand – setting their alarms!

Each day started bright and early. The students met in the hotel lobby at 7:30 every morning, dressed and ready to work. From there, they walked over to the Showground and made their way to the Home and Lifestyle pavilion, where the café was situated.

As soon as they got to work, the students were divided into two teams, Front of House and Back of House, with each team swapping roles the next day.

“The Back of House students had to plan, prepare and complete the service of the café’s tasting plate, which consisted of five individual dishes,” says Kelly.

It wasn’t easy work, but the students got a lot out of it. They were able to apply their current hospitality skills in a new context, learn new skills and experience what it’s like working in a busy kitchen at a major event. Some of the students even got an opportunity to showcase their skills on a bigger stage.

“Every day, the Executive Chef of the Royal Agricultural Society would come in and pick a few students to help him in the ‘big kitchen’,” says Kelly.

“He’d talk to the chef that our students were working with and then select a few that had been working well.”

The competitive nature of work in a busy kitchen didn’t turn the students off hospitality. On the contrary. According to Kelly, they were all inspired by the experience which saw them live and breathe hospitality in the big smoke for a few days.

“All of them loved it, and some of the students are definitely thinking about pursuing careers as chefs.”

Where these students go from here remains to be seen, but one thing is clear. The trip broadened their horizons and opened their eyes to some exciting career opportunities, and that’s worth much more than the cost of a return flight from Ballina to Sydney.

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