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Café owner and staff study together and graduate together

Teamwork makes the dream work

Close up Tai Tapu.jpg

Graduates from left to right: Michelle Magon, café Co-owner Lesley Edwards and Jadene Thompson

It was aprons off and graduation gowns on for three cooks from the Tai Tapu Café and Store for the Ara | Te Pūkenga Spring Graduation – and the entire staff headed out to celebrate their academic achievements.

Business co-owner Lesley Edwards along with kitchen staff Jadene Thompson and Michelle Magon graduated alongside each other after completing their in-work New Zealand Certificate in Cookery.

The trio said they helped each other out to get the year-long programme over the line juggling study while working full time.

Their efforts have strengthened the kitchen at the popular spot on Ōtautahi’s outskirts and café co-owner Peter Edwards said he “couldn’t be prouder”.

“These mature women have met the challenge to complete this tertiary qualification amid their busy lives. Two are the first in their families to do so. This is a significant personal achievement for them while also bringing a real boost in expertise to our business.”


Jadene, Michelle and Lesley take a break at Tai Tapu Café and Store

“They all had industry experience, but this has enhanced and formalised their skills and at the same time, it’s future-proofed our staffing by providing layers of back up to our head chef.”

Co-owner Lesley Edwards said when they invited their staff to undertake the workplace course, she decided she should step up too.

“I was at Edinburgh University 36 years ago which I followed with two decades of classroom teaching. I’ve since worked in the tourism and hospitality industry, but I was well out of my comfort zone doing this qualification alongside Jadene and Michelle.”

She said the trio helped each other out.

“They were good at the cooking side, and I was stronger on the written side having been a teacher for 20 years – so it really was team work to get us through.”

Mum of four Jadene Thompson (Ngati Porou), who started at the café doing dishes, said studying together had made a big difference.


The graduation ceremony paused as Jadene’s teenaged daughter Dalia honoured her mum

“A head injury I suffered in the past added to the challenge of the written aspects, but Lesley was amazing helping me to stick with it and get the assignments done,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to having whānau on hand to see her graduate.

Michelle Magon who turns 48 on graduation day said it would be a “super proud” moment – and the study was “the best thing she’d ever done”.

“At 16 I left school and got into working, always in hospo. I never thought I’d have the money or the opportunity to study let alone graduate,” she said.  “I can’t believe I get to walk on stage in a gown and stuff. I’m the first in my family to do it.”

The graduates completed in-work assignments under the supervision of the café’s head chef, sending evidence of their learning to their Ara tutor David Spice. In addition, they completed practical sessions for each study module at Ara’s well-equipped campus kitchens.

Lesley Edwards described those days like “something out of Masterchef” as she nervously presented dishes to be critiqued. But she now felt confident to work in the café’s prep kitchen and creating deluxe high teas, while Thompson and Magon could cover everything from quick order food to pre-ordered catering as well as preparing cabinet food and baking.

“I’ve gone from being someone who simply re-heated food to knowing I can slot in or tackle a complicated bake – while Jadene and Michelle can do anything!” Edwards said.

In addition to being able to follow complex recipes, all three are more aware of critical aspects of the industry such as costings, planning, organisation and running the kitchen efficiently.

“They are all chefs in their own right and on a career pathway,” Peter Edwards said. “To have a small café with four qualified chefs onsite is pretty amazing and we’re looking forward to celebrating.”