Kira-Lee: Taking her career to Japan and beyond

Diners at Hobart's Gilt Lounge Bar & Restaurant can look forward to something extra special from the kitchen now that junior chef Kira-Lee Norman has served the "Ultimate Apprenticeship" in Tokyo.

Kira-Lee, an 18-year-old from Tasmania was lucky to enjoy the best Japan's capital has to offer during a five-day whirlwind trip she won via the SkillsOne Ultimate Apprenticeship Competition. Now she is keen to put some of what she experienced into her work.

For Kira-Lee it was also a great cultural and life experience having never been outside of Australia before. She was both excited and daunted at first, but the 'Ultimate Apprenticeship' has proven to be inspiring.

Induction at the Westin

To settle in, Kira-Lee was given a day's induction at the prestigious 5 Star Westin Hotel in Melbourne's Collin's Street and the nerves quickly subsided as her guided tour included the glorious rooms, first class dining areas and kitchen.

After meeting Executive Chef David Albert for some career guidance it was quickly down to business. Kira- Lee discovered what is required to work in a 5 Star restaurant learning everything from correctly cutting an onion, right through to different cuts of meat and how to season a mouthwatering steak.

When asked about her time in the Westin Kitchen, Kira Lee said "it was a lot different to the Gilt kitchen, bigger and a lot more to learn but it was great".

The Westin Hotel assisted Kira Lee on the day and Human Resources Officer, Sarah Farrer said "the competition was of great benefit to Kira and all apprentices should utilize the experiences they are given".

While in Melbourne Kira Lee got a taste of all the city has to offer enjoying the Queen Victoria markets and shopping for a new outfit to take to Japan.

Learning the ropes in Tokyo

Once in Japan, she spent 5 nights at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo enhancing her skills with the world's very best chefs while helping to prepare a banquet for 1000 International dignitaries on Australia Day and serving up 420 smoked salmon entrees.

During a tour of the Kappabashi (Kitchen Town) district, Kira-Lee picked up a fish scaler, and in a separate visit to Tokyo's legendary Tsukiji fish market she bought a chef's knife to use back home.

One of Kira-Lee's favorite new tastes was a simple treat enjoyed by shrine visitors at Asakusa, a chocolate-coated banana served on a wooden skewer. Other new tastes at the top of her list included an artichoke dish she enjoyed at one of the Grand Hyatt's restaurants, and the noodles that are a staple of Japanese cuisine.

Inspired by new food styles

At home, Kira-Lee likes to whip up stir-fries, and she credited her grandmother Margaret Norman as a mentor in her chosen career.

"I used to always cook in the kitchen with my Nan and I have pretty much grown into it. I just absolutely love it," she said.

"I've learned about different styles of food, its presentation, and the importance of being well prepared," said Kira-Lee, a second-year apprentice who studies at the Drysdale Institute of TAFE.

Although she has nearly three years of training remaining, Kira-Lee said the "Ultimate Apprenticeship" in Tokyo had inspired her plans for the future.

"After seeing all this, I'd like to work in a hotel. Hopefully I want to one day own my own restaurant, but once I'm qualified I want to do a few years' work somewhere," she said.

After the Australia Day banquet she also assisted in the kitchen at a wedding at the hotel the following day, and takes with her a new eye for detail.

"The detailing was magnificent, the way they shape things and work with textures. The fine little details, from the way to slice a carrot, really stood out for me," she said.

And it was not just presentation that caught her interest, with Kira-Lee working with some produce for the first time: "I had never worked with wasabi before, and seeing the actual plant was amazing," she enthused.

"The quality of food was great, and some things over there are better and there was more of a range," said Kira-Lee, who was particularly impressed by the size of the apples she saw on sale at market.

Although the trip was short, Kira-Lee managed to dine at some of Tokyo's best restaurants, including Gonpachi - famous as a set for one of the "Kill Bill" movies - where she was treated to a soba (noodle) making demonstration.

As for Tokyo itself, Kira-Lee said her first trip overseas had been a jaw-dropping experience. "It was all amazing, from the way the streets were lit up at night, the cleanliness, how polite everyone was, witnessing their lifestyle, the vending machines, and just how big it is and the different way they do things," she said.