Boss recalls aspiring chef's zest for life

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 06:58 17/10/2012

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Adam Toleman, the 28-year-old man who died in a van fire near Kaikoura, had been excited about plans to fly to the United States this week, says his employer.

Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses general manager Chris Sturgeon said Mr Toleman had worked as a casual in the restaurant since the beginning of the year. He had started as a kitchenhand then moved up to a junior chef position.

"He had a real flair for food," Mr Sturgeon said.

"He was such a warm and enthusiastic person and was really eager to learn and help out. He had a mountain of friends."

Mr Toleman's body had been found in a burnt-out van parked off Kiwa Rd, a side road off State Highway 1 at Mangamaunu, about 15km north of Kaikoura on Monday morning last week.

Police said the fire that caused Mr Toleman's death appeared to have been accidental and the autopsy indicated that there were no suspicious circumstances.

Mr Sturgeon said Mr Toleman was an aspiring chef and was doing really well.

"Nothing was ever a problem for Adam.

"He wanted to learn how to be a chef and thought it was a good way to spend his life, travelling around the country, working as a chef."

He worked pretty much fulltime in the summer season, then in the winter he had gone to Craigieburn Valley Ski Area to work and save money for his trip to the United States.

He and his American girlfriend, Sophie, had been living in the staff accommodation at Hapuku Lodge before she went home.

The living arrangements were more to suit his girlfriend, Mr Sturgeon said.

"Adam was a real free spirit, he just loved it on the beach.

"If it was his choice, he would have lived his entire time out on the beach."

He had spent a lot of his free time travelling around the country. "He'd zip away for a few days. That van used to go everywhere."

"I used to hassle him how that thing survived."

The night before he died, Mr Toleman had been working at the lodge. "I'd never seen him so happy," Mr Sturgeon said.

His plan was to fly to Auckland on Wednesday to see his mum, then carry on to Mexico and the United States.

"He was so proud of himself that he'd saved so much money, because he said he'd never been very good at saving.

"He told me it was perfect because he was coming back to surf his favourite spot before leaving."

When he came into work on Sunday night he looked pretty tired, like he'd been out in the sun all day, Mr Sturgeon said.

"I knew what he was like, he'd surf all day, be exhausted, then come into work at night."

He asked him if he was all right because he looked tired, but he was ready to work.

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He had spoken to Mr Toleman's mother.

She told him she planned to hold a memorial in Kaikoura for her son when the investigation was completed, hopefully within a couple of weeks, he said.

- The Marlborough Express

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