Not just a talent on the pitch

Life on the rugby pitch may be the key ingredient for all of Rob Baxter’s squad as they prepare for the new 2011/12 season, but off it Exeter Chiefs prop Hoani Tui has been cooking up a bit of a storm.

The New Zealander has used the off season to not only bag some well earned rest and relaxation after a demanding first season in the Aviva Premiership, but he’s also took the opportunity to brush up on his love of cookery thanks to Michael Caines, one of Britain’s most acclaimed chefs.

Under the watchful eye of Caines and his team of executive chefs, the 27-year-old forward has worked closely in conjunction with the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) to set up a number of days working in the kitchen at the Abode Restaurant in Exeter.

It has, according to Tui, been a memorable experience and one which he hopes to continue well into the future.  He said: “I got involved with Michael and the Abode through the RPA. I know I am not always going to play professional rugby forever, so I thought I would check out something outside of playing and try something a bit different.

“I spoke to Josh [Frape] from the RPA and he got me in touch with Michael and Julian Wilkinson, the general manager at the restaurant. There were a few discussions and they said I could come in and work. I’ve always been really interested in cooking and working with different foods, so it didn’t take long to get me in here.”

Already Tui – who has previously played in New Zealand for Wellington and also Calvisano in Italy – has been hard at working helping to rustle up a number of scrum-ptious meals at the highly-rated and popular Devon venue.

“I’ve learnt quite a bit already, especially the delicate touches to things,” said Tui. “Playing in the forwards it’s not quite like that, you have to work hard and graft and you’ve got to have a bit of roughness about you. But making little dishes like I have, you have to be able to show that little bit of finesse.”

One man impressed by the efforts put in by the Chiefs man is Caines himself, who took time out of his busy schedule to work alongside Tui in the heat of the Abode kitchen.

“I think it’s great that Hoani has come in with us and that he has a genuine interest in food,” added Caines. “He’s been getting stuck in working with the guys on both morning and evening service, so he’s had a good introduction to what happens here.

“Working with him you can see he’s not intimidated by the environment at all – he’s really enjoyed it. The guys here have said he’s cracked on really well and you can see he’s used to working within a team, which is what we are here in the kitchen. We’re a tight knit unit, so in a lot of ways there is quite a lot of symmetry between ourselves and the Chiefs.”

A keen supporter of the Chiefs, Caines says he was impressed by what he saw from Tui and his team-mates last term and is confident they can again prosper amongst English rugby’s elite this season.

“I go to watch the Chiefs when I can and I am heavily involved with the Exeter Foundation, which is the club’s official charity. The Chiefs did an awesome job in their first year and I think everybody has a lot more respect for Exeter now.

“Last season they very nearly took some top scalps and they pushed some big, big teams close. They gave us a lot of good memories last season and they have a lot of talent and a lot of belief in the side, so it will be great to see how they get on next season.”

Caines has also given his backing to the ideas of the RPA to get more players looking to their futures once their careers come to and end.

Having himself overcome a number of challenges during a distinguished cooking career, Caines says: “At 25 I thought I was going to be invincible, but then I had a car accident and I lost one of my arms. It’s at times like that when you realise you are vulnerable and it’s the same for players – they can have a bad accident in training or in a game and that can be their careers over.

“I think it’s great that rugby and the RPA are looking after their players and making them think about a trade for once they finish. A lot of guys can easily finish playing and then have to look to try and pick something up. At least with schemes like this they are thinking about the future and learning new skills.”