Graduates showcase NZ at Expo 2020

20 Jan, 2022
AUT graduates showcase NZ cuisine
Chefs Michael Lopesi, Rakesh Pillai, Sid Sahrawat, Laura-Jane Muller and Esther Olatunbosun.

Every five years, the world's countries gather in one city to showcase what they have to offer. For the first time this year, the World Expo is being held in the Middle East – and in the centre of the excitement are recent AUT culinary arts graduates.

Set within the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, Tiaki restaurant has been humming with diners enjoying the outstanding quality and taste of New Zealand’s food and beverage offering. From beautiful Kāpiti cheese platters to pasture-raised venison, grass-fed lamb and an array of kaimoana (seafood) including crumbed hoki (classic fish and chips), greenshell mussels, and scampi, the menu is a celebration of our nation’s special connection to the land and sea.

Behind the delicious creations at Tiaki are three young chefs all the way from Aotearoa New Zealand. Michael Lopesi, Laura-Jane Muller and Esther Olatunbosun were chosen from a talented pool of ambitious young chefs as part of the New Zealand at Expo / Emirates Flight Catering Apprentice Chef Programme more than two years ago. Now, here in Dubai, they are representing the next generation of New Zealand’s culinary talent and showcasing our country’s contemporary and diverse culinary offering on the global stage.

Want to find out more about these brilliant up-and-coming chefs? Here’s everything you need to know about Tiaki’s terrific trio – Michael, Laura-Jane and Esther.

Michael Lopesi | The Pie Guy

Born and bred in Auckland, Michael brings more than five years' experience to the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion's Tiaki team at Expo 2020 Dubai. Michael's time in the kitchen began as a young child, sitting on the kitchen bench while his mother and grandmother created dishes for the family. Over the years his passion for food took flight, eventually taking him to Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in 2017, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Arts and Hospitality.

During his studies, Michael spent time gaining experience within some of Auckland's top culinary destinations including The Officer's Mess and The Grove Restaurant, where he developed his skills under the mentorship of Ben Bayley. Michael then had a short stint in Melbourne at renowned Middle Eastern restaurant, Maha, and modern Indian restaurant, Tonka, before making his way back to New Zealand.

The UAE was on Michael's radar as a diverse culinary destination well before the New Zealand at Expo 2020 Dubai / Emirates Flight Catering Apprentice Chef Programme opportunity came along. Now, at Expo 2020 Dubai, Michael is putting his experience to the ultimate test by giving guests a taste of New Zealand at Tiaki.

The dream job? Chef Michael would love to open a shop that serves one of New Zealand’s most-loved dishes – pies! He says it’s the best showcase of New Zealand cuisine in one tasty handheld package.

Laura-Jane Muller | From Farm to Expo

From her family's dairy farm in Waikite Valley to the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, 22-year-old chef Laura brings her passion for both food and learning to her role at Tiaki.

An all-rounder chef with a love for seasonal New Zealand produce, Laura’s time in the kitchen began when she was 12 years of age, with her mother passing down her cooking know-how while preparing family meals. Laura then made her way to Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology where she obtained a Diploma of Culinary Arts while working as Junior Sous Chef at The Bistro in Taupo.

The opportunity to be part of Tiaki is the first time Laura has left New Zealand. While here in Dubai, she is enjoying exploring the amazing world that is Expo 2020 - from visiting country pavilions to sampling different cuisines. Staying true to her farming roots, Laura loves cooking with ingredients that has been lovingly nurtured by some of New Zealand’s top producers – from honey, kiwifruit and dairy to beef, lamb and seafood.  And she has generously shared her Mum’s pavlova recipe for diners to enjoy at Tiaki.

Esther Olatunbosun | Our Dessert Queen

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Esther has called New Zealand her second home for more than half her life, having moved there with her family nearly 15 years ago.

A believer that food is the glue that holds everyone together, the talented 24-year-old chef’s creativity in the kitchen and love of cooking led her to Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in 2018 where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Arts and Hospitality. From there, Esther gained a broad range of experience working in restaurants, hotels, cafes, and catering businesses within Auckland, putting her new-found skills to the test.

When the Tiaki opportunity appeared on the AUT Careers Hub, Esther thought the experience would be an opportunity to immerse herself in different cultures and add more cooking disciplines to her ever-growing expertise. Each day she is responsible for creating Tiaki’s mouthwatering desserts including the delicious Anzac ice cream sandwich, Comvita honey cake and of course, a classic New Zealand Pavlova!

This article was reproduced from the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion's website, with permission.

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