After years of working at a desk, Fou Fale left his office job to follow his passion and become a chef.

Three years ago, Fou Fale was stuck behind a desk shuffling paperwork at an inner-city telecommunications company.

He’d been in and out of jobs for years, often struggling to pay bills and provide for his wife and three young children.

“I was trying to find that sense of thriving in my life – but I lacked it,” says the 29-year-old Samoan.

His true passion, cooking, had been simmering under the surface for years.

“I’m one of seven siblings and I was always the family cook. Every time we had get-togethers I’d try to make fancy dinners out of corned beef, chicken backs, chop suey and taro!”

Growing confidence

When someone told him about Māori and Pasifika Trades Training (MPTT), the possibility of training as a chef for free seemed too good to be true.

“I thought it would be awesome because it would take the financial pressure off, not having to pay back a massive student loan. But I didn’t think I was entitled.”

Fou’s wife, Katerina, says her husband faced a major confidence hurdle applying for the course.

“He thought he really was not good enough for it. Like, ‘I’m just a Samoan boy, they’re not going to give me that’.”

Encouraged by his family and pastor, Fou stepped out and applied.

“When I got in I was like ‘Wow, my first scholarship ever!’ It made me feel kind of special,” he recalls.

“I saw it as a sign and thought ‘I’m not going to go half-hearted; I’m going to give it my all’.”

Stepping up

Fou has excelled during his Certificate in Cookery (Level 3 and 4), shining as an inspiring and talented young leader at Manukau Institute of Technology.

In fact, his 30 classmates picked Fou to be their Head Chef for the final semester.

“It’s pretty full-on juggling my training, kids and this new responsibility as Head Chef, but it’s been awesome and I’m looking forward to growing my cooking and leadership skills.”

Living the dream

Fou says MPTT gave him an opportunity to chase something he’s dreamt about for a long time.

Now, as he nears graduation, Fou says his dream is to run his own catering business.

“That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but I needed to get the qualification first.”

He still loves cooking traditional Pacific Island food, but has given his old childhood favourites a new twist.

“I still cook those same things but I’ve modernised them, making the dishes as presentable and healthy as possible. That’s where I’m heading now – making healthy recipes and meals for our people.”

Fou is also driven to help young people in his church.

“Some of those kids have no sense of direction and I tell them there’s help out there that’s free, and there are people who are willing to sacrifice their time to make your future better – not just for you but also for your kids.”

Armed with new skills and new hope for the future, Fou’s vision is to see other young Pasifika and Māori take hold of the opportunities presented by MPTT.

“If we can inspire as many of our Pacific Island and Māori people to take up this programme, that’s my goal. Everyone’s given the same opportunities but it’s up to them to make something out of it.”