Deaf chefs cook up their careers

Inspiration comes from many sources but it’s hard to imagine a young would-be chef finding it while watching Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen.

But that’s exactly where 17-year-old Crown Perth’s Hemi Wiapo developed his desire to become an apprentice chef – and he wasn’t going to let deafness stand in the way of his chosen career.

“I wanted to cook for and feed people and to help people feel better,” Wiapo says.

“I was interested and I’d been watching Hell’s Kitchen and I was trying to find out what would be the perfect job for me to have … I love food and I was always fascinated by the uniforms. I want to be like that.”

Wiapo and his co-apprentice, 21-year-old Paidaishe Tembo, are members of the resort’s disability employment program, CROWNability, which aims to give disabled people opportunities to build meaningful and lasting careers at Crown in Perth and Melbourne.

The program matches peoples’ skills to real jobs and doesn’t create jobs just for the sake of it.

CROWNability’s Group Manager Ian Tsolakis says the five-pillar model worked with disability providers to find and retain suitable people, ran tours to allow prospective workers to get a feel for their environment and ensured post-placement support.

“We don’t predetermine someone’s fate because of their disability,” Mr Tsolakis says. “If the person has the skills, then we will employ them. We treat everyone with disability like everyone else.”

The CCI-powered Apprenticeship Support Australia manages Crown’s apprenticeship training contracts and provides additional mentoring assistance for trainees. It also pays the Federal Government incentives and disability support payments for those apprenticeships who meet eligibility criteria.

There are currently 118 employees and nine contractors with disabilities working in many fields at Crown Perth, from food and beverage to IT to recreation attendant.

Through the Crown-initiated Hospitality Disability Network, workers can be shared with other hospitality and tourism businesses if the fit is better for them. The program also works with the Australian Network on Disability Access and undertakes disability confidence training for managers.

Last year Tembo, who emigrated from Zimbabwe in 2011 and has been deaf since birth, was named Crown Perth Apprentice of the Year.

“Because I’m deaf, it’s given me the pride of showing people I can do anything,” Tembo says.

“I can achieve and for other people who are deaf as well, they can achieve anything.”

Wiapo and Tembo – both of whom have cochlear implants and can hear some sounds – work through a system of bells, signs, lipreading and gestures in their busy kitchen environments.

An app contains their work timetable while orders can be printed, rather than shouted, and some colleagues are learning Auslan, the sign language through which both communicate.

Neither Wiapo nor Tembo have let their disability stand in the way of their ambition.

Wiapo dreams of becoming a head chef, or sous chef, while Tembo enjoys working with foods from other countries.

“I love my job and it’s been fantastic moving around the different kitchens at Crown,” she says.

“I like working with Asian cuisine, for example Thai food and, also, my home country food.”

►Apprenticeship Support Australia is celebrating 20 years. To find out more about its free services, visit the website

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