Today, the industry mourns the loss of a consummate professional, educator, mentor, leader and inspiration, Mr Val Cook.
For most Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) alumni, no single individual represents the history and values of BMIHMS as truly and comprehensively as Val Cook. Former kitchen lecturer, Head of Course, Vice Principal and Alumni Ambassador, as well as the longest-serving member of staff.
Val attained, as first dux Julie Henderson puts it, “legendary status” in the eyes of alumni. Indeed, for many graduates, as Michael Eibrink Jansen affirms, “Mr Cook is BMIHMS.” Most graduates report the same evolution in their relationship with “Cookie”: initial terror in his imposing presence and fear of his sudden, often-devastating wrath giving way to a growing appreciation of his methods and, ultimately, a keen understanding of his generosity of spirit, terrific sense of humour and tireless dedication to his job, the school and his students.
Recalls Kristian Nicholls, one of the school’s first group of graduates, “Val Cook certainly established his presence from day one, but his core motivations of balancing quality and safety were spot on.” Says classmate Jim Radford, “I was terrified of Cookie, but he turned out to be one of the best teachers I have ever had.” Many students learned fundamental lessons in Cook’s classes and (perhaps by virtue of their forceful delivery) retain them a quarter-century on. Jamie Sach, another 1991 graduate, says, “Even today, every time I see a wooden spoon sitting in a pot of sauce, I hear Val’s voice in my head yelling ‘How much flavour are you getting out of that spoon, Sach?”’
Keeping the faith
Through the ABAA, graduates have continued to enjoy and benefit from Cook’s guidance and friendship. For many who decades since departed BMIHMS, he is a living link with the school, and sometimes more.
Christian Tidén, a Swedish graduate from 1998, regards Cook as “my global mentor”.
With many others, 2010 graduate Timothy Hunt sees him as the embodiment of the school’s principles: “I want to send a very, very big thank you to Val Cook for remaining in line with the initial values of BMIHMS.”
Countless alumni express their appreciation for Cookie’s work and his impact on their careers. As 2003 graduate Justin King says, “Every single graduate I encounter has an unbelievable [amount of] respect for him”,
While Shaizeen and Carl Contractor ask, “Where would any of us be without Mr Cook? Always willing to help, share and advise — even now!”
Val’s network extended globally, with virtually a friend in every city. His travels as Alumni Ambassador took him to all parts of the world visiting Alumni and hosting events, reunions and networking functions. If you named a hotel anywhere in the world, chances are Val could give you the name of an Alumni or student working there today and mutually they would know Val, as was the immense respect and influence of all that knew him.
Val was a consummate professional, respecting every one of his fellow hoteliers, never accepting a free room, meal or glass of chardonnay without a debate.
It’s all summed up eloquently by Jamie Sach: “Val, you have been a mentor and friend to so many students and graduates. Your contribution to the hospitality industry — here and overseas — can never be measured, but it will always be appreciated and celebrated by all those whose lives you have touched.”
Vale Val Cook, rest in peace.