20 July 2018
A Mumbai-born Royal New Zealand Navy chef is doing what he loves exploring the world with the New Zealand Defence Force.
Leading Chef Zylen Thomas is serving on HMNZS TE MANA as the frigate conducts its five-month deployment to the Pacific and South-East Asia, including attending the world’s largest international naval exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), in Hawaii.
Leading Chef Thomas is also a Team Leader in the Damage Control Organisation on board, and serves as a boarding party member.
In his 10 years in the Navy, he has travelled all over the world working on most of the Navy’s ships. He was part of a team that boarded 72 fishing vessels during HMNZS OTAGO’s patrol of the South West Pacific last year to help protect against illegal and unregulated fishing.
“My favourite part of the job is giving each person the satisfaction of a good meal – people especially love my famous curries,” Leading Chef Thomas says.
Leading Chef Thomas was brought up in Bangalore and moved to New Zealand with his family when he was 15, settling in Papatoetoe. He earned a scholarship to become a chef at the Manakau Institute of Technology, and after completing a certificate he joined the Royal New Zealand Navy. Being in the military is not a first for his family – his grandfather and uncle served in the Indian Air Force.
He is also an active sportsman. He is the captain of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s cricket and football teams and has travelled to Australia to represent both codes for the NZDF, including playing cricket against the Indian Defence Force team.
He says his Indian background, with an ingrained respect for elders, has helped him adjust easily to the military lifestyle and hierarchy.
“I know I will always have a bond to India, but joining the Navy has given me new bonds all around the world – it’s something I don’t believe any other job can offer. If you’re thinking of joining, give it a go. Get out of your comfort zone. You will explore so much of the world.”