January 18, 2024
by Courtney Dunn

Yes Chef! Recipes for success

In the bustling kitchen of the Ibis Styles Sydney, there are two diligent workers. They expertly navigate the chaos that surrounds them, confidently adding the final flourish to perfect plates and clearing away cooking tools and crockery to ensure a clear path for the workers behind them. They are an integral cog in the complicated system that is a commercial kitchen; it is hard to believe they have only been working at the Sydney hotel for a year. 

For Alex and Thomas, securing this position once seemed like a pipe dream. While they are both capable and passionate, securing full time work while living with a disability comes with a unique set of hurdles. There are unfair stereotypes. Minimal opportunities. Feelings of incompetence.  

Barriers that are being broken down one by one. 

Due to lockdowns and a lack of interested workers in the service industry, it has been difficult for hotels to fill a couple of positions – let alone a whole team. But that is the challenge Stephanie Lopesi faced when she was tasked with staffing the newly rebranded hotel. It was a tall order and required a new, fresh approach.  

Implementing People with a Purpose, an initiative dedicated to diversifying their workforce, Stephanie took a chance – a chance that filled her team with hard working individuals and gave those living with a disability the opportunity to find work. A five-week paid internship was designed to give candidates a taste of the hospitality industry. All that was left was to find participants.  

Breakthru’s Disability Employment Service (DES) provided the perfect talent. Dedicated to helping those with an injury, illness, or disability find a job they love, Breakthru’s Solange Boski knew the person for the role. 

21-year-old Alex was studying commercial cookery. He had talent, experience, and drive, but was overlooked by employers due to his disability. All he needed was a chance. 

A chance to prove himself. A chance to demonstrate his talents. A chance to shine.  

“He’s a shining light. A bright, great personality.” Solange says with pride. “He had such a passion and wanted to work in the kitchen.” 

And work in the kitchen he did.  

During his five-week internship, Alex integrated himself into the kitchen with such ease and efficiency that he quickly became irreplaceable. 

“We wanted another Alex,” Stephanie says. “That’s how we got Thomas.” 

While Alex made the kitchen his domain, Thomas began in a front of house role. Fresh out of school and unsure about the future, this position helped Thomas build confidence through training and support. Now an experienced full-time employee, Thomas is performing tasks and duties that once seemed impossible. 

It has now been a year since Alex and Thomas began working at Ibis Styles Sydney. Head chef, Dennis Liu, could not be happier.  

“Alex has mastered cooking eggs, and Thomas knows the building inside and out,” Dennis says with a smile. “They are both incredibly bright. They bring happiness to the kitchen.” 

Dennis recalls a certain day in the kitchen. It was one of those days. A day where parts of the machine fail. Where cogs do not match. A day of chaos and disorder. Where the smallest thing can spiral. Chef was hanging on by a thread.  

But he was thrown a lifeline. 

Alex could sense the stress and panic permeating the kitchen, and he knew it was up to him to set the machine back on track. Back when Alex first began his internship, and when Chef had first taken him under his wing, Chef used to tell both Alex and Thomas to remember to be happy and to be positive. Those words had helped Alex find his footing, and it was time for him to return the favour. 

“Chef, relax,” Alex said. “You need to remember to be happy and positive.” 

The words Dennis had used to help his young mentee were returned tenfold. Dennis could feel the pressure ease. He squared his shoulders, and together they faced the day. 

Together they made it through. 

A year on, Alex and Thomas work together seamlessly. In a fast-paced dance that could make onlookers dizzy, Alex plates up an egg he has perfectly cooked, and Thomas swoops in at just the right moment to deliver the tasty treat to an eager visitor. There is a brief lull, and they are asked a question.  

“What is your favourite part of the job?” 

“It’s the cooking,” Alex answers with confidence. 

“The cooking.” Thomas agrees. “Getting stuff ready.” 

“And also the cleaning, and everything.” Alex continues. “And the people too. The people treat me with respect.” 

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