GURKHA soldiers, renowned for their tenacity and fearlessness, are swapping kukris for kitchen knives as they plan for life after the Army. Mess kitchens were traditionally the dumping ground for injured servicemen. But with tourism booming in their native Nepal, soldiers are now clamouring to become army chefs. The Brigade of Gurkhas is being slashed by two-thirds as part of sweeping cuts across the British armed forces. Major Udai Bahadur Gurung said the Gurkhas in Hong Kong now had twice as many applications from would-be cooks as there were places. He added: 'These days a lot of our boys want to go into the kitchens because they can go back to Nepal and work as chefs in five-star hotels. 'It is difficult to get jobs in Nepal so some of those who have returned are struggling. But the cooks are very well equipped to find a job - they will keep their wives very happy.' Major Udai was speaking at the 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles cookery competition at the Sek Kong base. Eight chefs were given two hours to whip up a traditional Nepalese spread, or bhat, with a budget of just $16.42 per serving. Winner Corporal Agni Linbu, 30, said: 'I became a cook so I could have a second career. When I leave I will go back to Nepal and open a restaurant. 'I know some ex-Gurkhas who can't find a job in Nepal. They are depressed. It's quite difficult to live on their pension.' Junior chefs earn $4,500 a month on top of board and lodging while seniors can make $11,000, but pay for their food. On the menu yesterday was a range of curries, chutneys and sticky desserts. Colonel Howard Bentley-Marchant, the Deputy Chief of Staff at Headquarters British Forces who presented the winners with silver cups, said the spread was so good he would have to come off his diet. 'I've had such a wonderful time since I've been in Hong Kong that all my clothes have shrunk,' he said, before tucking in.