Medals and trophies are piling up for rugby-mad Southland Boys' High School, but they're not coming from the usual source.
The school's food tech programme has become a force to be reckoned with as its members tasted success in both national and international competitions.
Scott Richardson, a professional chef turned teacher at the school, pioneered its culinary programme when he started teaching in 2004.
In 2006 he decided for the first time to enter a team into the national secondary school cooking championship in Auckland.
"We took two boys up there and basically took out the overall title our first year," he said. "Since then we've entered every year and the team has grown from two boys up to about five boys each year."
In 2002 the school wasn't even eligible for government funding to build a kitchen, but now students were bringing home medals from cooking competitions in Japan, Tahiti, and Australia.
How did Richardson take a sports-oriented school in the deep south and turn it into one of the the most successful culinary high schools in the country?
"When I competed as a chef, I saw the benefit of competition for young boys.
"They like rugby, soccer, cricket, that sort of thing, so we just take that competition factor and put it in a culinary arena.
"They thrive on that whole competition factor, so we've played on that."
His approach had paid dividends for his former students, some of whom are cooking with highly-regarded chefs overseas and in New Zealand.
He said Southland Boys' was the only school in the South Island to regularly compete in nationwide competitions, and his students regularly entered regional, national, and international competitions which drives them to succeed.
In the lead-up to a competition, he treated his boys a bit like a rugby team, he said.
"My boys come in here every Wednesday leading up to a competition and they train for three or four hours . . . it's quite an intense process."
He said getting the boys into the kitchen could sometimes be a struggle - but the rise in cooking shows like MasterChef, and the exposure of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay had turned it into a viable career option.
"Their presence on TV says yep, you can be a chef and it can be fun.
"That competitive factor, and TV and media becoming more concerned with food, the two just come together."
Richardson used to compete in competitions himself, as well as train his students for their own competitions, just so they could see his commitment.
"I thought, ‘I'm making them do it, I should do it too'. But then a colleague told me ‘Scott, you've done your dash, focus on your students now'."
He did just that: in 2012, Richardson took a year off to complete a diploma in teaching.
"That showed the boys I'm still learning as well."
On September 25, Invercargill will host the International Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge, a cooking competition which involves teams from nine nations across Asia and the Pacific.
- The Southland Times