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Old Scholar thrives in kitchen apprenticeship

THE transition from school to filleting sardines has been a seamless one for former Gippsland Grammar student Oskar Watkinson.

Oskar combined his VCE studies with a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery until the end of Term 1 this year when the then Year 11 student accepted a full-time chef apprenticeship at Paynesville’s Sardine eatery + bar in East Gippsland.

Since then Oskar has embraced kitchen life which has included long but rewarding hours and mastering some of the restaurant’s signature dishes including Hiramasa kingfish crudo (Oskar fillets the kingfish from whole, often just hours after it’s been caught) and local sardine fillets with garnishes that change with the season.

While an apprenticeship may not be something all students consider, Oskar says it was the perfect career path for him.

“It has been absolutely awesome,” he said. “I’ve found something that I really love doing and I’m always excited to come into work. I’m not sure I would have necessarily had the same happiness in my career had I continued at school, which I’m not sure was for me. I’m really enjoying working with all the fresh local produce, especially all the local seafood. It really is the best stuff around, especially as we come into summer.”

Sardine eater + bar owner and head chef Mark Briggs with apprentice chef and former Gippsland Grammar student Oskar Watkinson.
Sardine eater + bar owner and head chef Mark Briggs with apprentice chef and former Gippsland Grammar student Oskar Watkinson.

An early career highlight for Oskar has been working alongside and learning from Sardine owner and head chef Mark Briggs, who established his own career working in Michelin-starred restaurants across the UK and alongside chefs including Jamie Oliver and Pierre Koffmann before moving to Australia and working with Shannon Bennett at the acclaimed Vue de Monde. In 2017 Mark relocated to East Gippsland and opened Sardine eatery + bar on the town’s waterfront overlooking Raymond Island where he has since collecting his own accolades from the Good Food Guide and the delicious.100 list of Victoria’s 100 best restaurants, in which Sardine was recently ranked as the 15th best restaurant in the state.

Mark said Oskar is a natural in the kitchen.

“He is an uncut diamond,” Mark said. “We are super lucky to have found him. He started here as a waiter and we got him washing dishes but I’ve never seen anyone just take to it as Oskar has. He gets here early and stays until the end and he has so much determination and passion and ability for someone who is such a young age. I mean how many 17 year olds take themselves to Melbourne on their days off to sit at the bar at Kisume and order the degustation menu for lunch.

“Remember his name because he is one to watch. I guarantee we’ll be reading about him in the future.”

High praise, indeed. But for Oskar, the pleasure is all his and he says the opportunity to work alongside a chef as internationally accomplished as Mark without having to leave his home in Paynesville has been priceless.

“I feel really lucky to be able to work with Mark and to be able to learn from him,” Oskar said. “We have a small kitchen team so I get lots of one-on-one time and he is very good at explaining everything to me.”

Gippsland Grammar’s Acting Deputy Principal and former Head of VCAL and Careers Justin Henderson agrees with Mark that Oskar is off to achieve amazing things.

“Oskar was able to utilise our elective programs to explore and understand his passion for cooking,” Mr Henderson said.

“Over the past four years we have had seen an increase in the number of students pursuing apprenticeship pathways like Oskar. These students have followed this pathway after careful consideration, work experience and, in many cases, pre-apprenticeship training as part of their schooling. And as teachers, it is particularly pleasing when our past students return to our school as qualified tradespeople with their employers.”

As for Oskar, he’s already running the pastries and larder sections at Sardine and he’s already dreaming of eventually working at some of the world’s top restaurants in Europe and London.

As Mark said: watch this space!


Gippsland Grammar background:

Gippsland Grammar is one of Australia’s leading co-educational Anglican schools, with a tradition of excellence in education extending almost 100 years. Located in the heart of Gippsland, the School has more than 1100 students across three campuses including St Anne’s junior campus and the Garnsey senior campus, both at Sale, and the Bairnsdale junior campus in East Gippsland. Enrolments at both junior campuses begin with a 3s and 4s kindergarten program at their respective Early Learning Centres (ELC) and Garnsey caters for students from Years 7-12. Gippsland Grammar is also the only boarding school east of Melbourne’s suburban fringe and is a home-away-from-home for students from far East Gippsland, South Gippsland, Victoria’s High Country and the Latrobe Valley as well as for a cohort of international students.

Gippsland Grammar’s 2021 VCE results:

Gippsland Grammar’s class of 2021 was among some of Victoria’s highest achieving Year 12 students. An amazing 21 per cent of the School’s Year 12 students achieved an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) above 90 and 38 per cent above 80, which places them in the top 10 percent, and 20 per cent, in the state respectively. Gippsland Grammar’s Dux for 2021 was Demi Edward with an ATAR of 99.2, two students achieved a perfect study score of 50 while 28 per cent of students achieved a study score above 40. Gippsland Grammar is also proud to acknowledge the 21 students from the 2021 cohort who made a successful transition into the workforce through an apprenticeship or traineeship.

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If you’d like to join our Gippsland Grammar Community please phone us on 56143 6388 or email to request a Prospecus, book a campus tour or simply inquire about a future enrolment. Or click here to read our Gippsland Grammar Information Book.

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