Lifetime achievement award for Dilmah Founder
More than 1,000 of the world’s top chefs have feted Merrill J Fernando of Dilmah tea at their 2018 WorldChefs Congress.
Known widely in New Zealand for his Dilmah catch cry “do try it…,” Merrill J Fernando was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for his “extraordinary passion and commitment to tea and his unique philosophy of making business as a matter of human service.” The award was presented by WorldChefs’ President Thomas Gugler at the biennial global congress for 100 Chefs’ Societies held in Kuala Lumpur this month.
The Sri Lankan tea pioneer was saluted for his commitment to tea, especially the harsh early years when he fought for value addition at source and against the colonial economic system that saw his country’s prized crop sold as a commodity at auction in London.
When his brand Dilmah (named after his sons Dilhan and Malik) was born in 1988, it was a victory for farmers around the world as it was the first time that tea, coffee or cocoa was available that had been grown, picked, packed and branded at source by a farmer.
Merrill J Fernando points out that a farmer’s desire is for quality and that’s fundamentally different to the objective of a trader, who buys and sells tea purely for profit from and to any source in any market.
Helping those in need
Less well known is Merrill J. Fernando’s commitment to family values and their embodiment in his brand through the philosophy of making business a matter of human service.
That principle requires each of the Dilmah Tea, plantation, packaging and ancillary businesses to contribute a minimum 10% of their pre-tax profits to the Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation (www.mjffoundation.org). The Foundation uses these funds to empower youth and women in difficult economic and social circumstances, children with special needs, communities that are economically marginalised, and the environment.
Among the outcomes of the Dilmah philosophy is the Empower Culinary School, a WorldChefs’ approved training school that offers culinary training free of charge to young women and men who are economically, socially or otherwise disadvantaged.
Those that have benefited from the Empower School include youth with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Several New Zealand chefs have travelled to Sri Lanka to help teach these young people.
A second Empower Culinary & Hospitality School will open in August this year at the MJF Centre East. It is the largest privately funded charitable initiative in Sri Lanka, which is designed to serve differently abled children, youth, women and economically disadvantaged communities through the principle of empowerment with dignity.