The power of holding on to dreams

Tanya Goonewardene
April 25, 2022

We bring a story of personal strife that led to triumph and how we were able to assist a young lady achieve her dreams.

Having lost a mother to cancer and father to a sudden heart attack, leaving siblings indifferent homes and under the care of family members is a challenging start for anyone. Married at the age of 18 and becoming a young mum of 2 by 22 is hardly a cakewalk. In an effort to supplement the family’s income, she opened a juice bar near a main road in Pollonaruwa. It is here that she would meet someone who handed her a leaflet about Supreme Chef. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine she’d be leaving her little island village and flying over to Australia to further her skills.

Ok, so let’s backtrack a little bit.Who is this young lady, and why does her story matter?

Memories of Sri Lankan cuisine evoke a palate full of spices and rich flavours. Based on Sri Lanka’s land size, it comes as quite a surprise that this tiny island nation has an exceptional variety of culinary experiences that could silence food critics from across the world. This is partly due a wealth of flora and fauna found across the country. But the principal factor would be its ethnic diversity, heritage of spices and passion of cooking commonly shared by all her people.

A country with such a rich heritage was, however, struggling to attract new blood into the sphere of culinary arts.There was poor participation in vocational training related to cookery, as well as a disconnect between industry giants in the hospitality sector and training providers. This is where Skills for Inclusive Growth (S4IG) stepped in.  

We wanted to make a career in culinary skills attractive to Sri Lanka’s youth - it had to be aspirational. A choice inspired by the journeys of those who had gone before them and had made a lucrative career in the same field.  

We needed to entice the public to be involved, engaged, and celebrate these hidden gems.We wanted to leverage social proof to give rise to talented youth by providing them with a stage where they could showcase their genii. And so, we drew parallels with the celebrated reality show ‘Master ChefAustralia’ thereby creating our own show, ‘Supreme Chef’.

The wheels were in motion.  

We reached out to our friends in mass media and event partners to create hype among the youth and get some of the big names in the trade involved. We flew down celebrity chefs, including Peter Kuruvita and Jimmy Shoe.

A few years on, the ‘Supreme Chef’ brand has a strong association with the Australian High Commission, theChefs Guild Lanka (CGL), Vocational Training Authority (VTA), NationalApprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA) and National YouthServices Council (NYSC).

Building on the success of Season 1 and Season 2 of Supreme Chef, which generated over 500,000viewers and stimulated increased enrolments in cooking skills development, S4IG is supporting government training providers to incentivise their own trainees to take part in a national competition. All stages of the competition will be filmed and turned into an 18-episode reality TV show to be broadcast on national television and social media. Media teams from VTA, NAITA and NYSC will be upskilled via a brand-new Foundational Skills in Televisual Studies course developed by Creative Network in collaboration with S4IG.

So, where does that young lady’s story fit in to all of this? Well, for starters, her name is Melonika. And she is the winner of the inaugural “Supreme Chef” reality show. After her triumph, she was flown to Australia, where she further enhanced her culinary skills. Today, she is a winner in more ways than one. She is an inspiration, looked up to by youth of the area. Melonika is playing a pivotal role in launching the Supreme Chef youth edition. She epitomises the wise saying, ‘Ships are safe in the harbor. But that’s not what ships are built for’.