Shaping Culinary Minds At Centennial College
A departure from writing about the chefs who feed us, this month, I share time spent with future leaders of hospitality.
“How do you feel about shaping young minds?” she blurted out. “I’m sorry? Me?” was my knee-jerk reaction. And so, the conversation began, on a sunny afternoon in June, when I was presented with an intriguing and daunting proposition: “Seriously, I want you to consider coming to teach here, I think you would be good at it, and really enjoy the experience.” Picture me, half-shocked, and kind of smirking, pondering the possibility of being considered by someone, as a potential candidate to teach, and that someone is now one of my three bosses (yes, I have three jobs), the always smiling and positive Suzanne Caskie, Chair, Food and Tourism Studies, Centennial College, School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts.
…I want you to consider coming to teach here, I think you would be good at it, and really enjoy the experience
After the shock and awe, once my jaw shut and everything sunk in, I was pretty excited. Sam Glass, a friend, and most-revered and tenured professor at the department, was going on vacation, and I was offered to take over two of his classes for seven weeks. You don’t say?
I know a bunch of the Chef/Instructors at Centennial’s Progress Campus, where the program is run out of a state-of-the-art facility, which features classrooms and labs, a student-run eatery, The Local Café and Restaurant, residence/hotel rooms, and a conference centre.
Walking through the spacious hall, saying hello, and getting hugs from old friends (some of whom I hadn’t seen in a while), it felt like home to me, so I was most of the way to making my decision. Over coffee with Matt Duffy, who had been at the college for two semesters, I was convinced. A brilliant baker, Chef Matt is one of this fall’s newest, full-time Chef/Instructors.
Walking through the spacious hall, saying hello, and getting hugs from old friends (some of whom I hadn’t seen in a while), it felt like home to me, so I was most of the way to making my decision
Not the biggest fan of school, I was marginally hesitant. My main worry: How would I be at teaching? With his own, somewhat limited amount of teaching experience, Matt said, “Like me, you will be so great at this.” In his excited way – which he is about lots of things (man, I am surrounded by some amazing and inspiring people) – he elaborated, “We didn’t love school and were troublesome as kids; this is one of the things that will make us the best teachers.”
He paused, took a sip of his coffee, then, ”You will really get through to them, and make them as prepared as possible for this tough industry, knowing all of their possible tricks.” Having so much in common with Matt, that certainly resonated. “It all comes down to that passion that we have about food and hospitality,” he concluded, “the knowledge and [sic] that we have amassed and must share.” Sold!
You will really get through to them, and make them as prepared as possible for this tough industry, knowing all of their possible tricks. It all comes down to that passion that we have about food and hospitality.
I was asked to teach two classes, Food Theory and Cuisine and Culture, the latter about the history of food. Super fascinating topics that a food geek like me could sink my teeth into. Now, how to impart my knowledge to students in an engaging and effective way, since I was joining, mid-semester. What an opportunity! And, as I regard a lot of things in my life, I downplayed its significance until those around me expressed their own excitement.
Most of the students, millennials, who are new to this country, here to study and learn a trade, are hoping to make a new life for themselves. Many I have described as “hav[ing] the light behind their eyes” (thanks to my friend, Elyse, for that gem phrase) – they are engaged, and you can see their future laid out in front of them and of those who need encouragement and hand holding.
Thankfully, the support network is strong for the self-exercise in how to be the best guide, leader and teacher on their journey. Over time, I will improve; the first seven weeks in this role taught me a lot about myself, and about my own journey.
Teaching is in my family. My eldest sister taught for many years, and helped to shape me early on. Retired this past school year, she encouraged me in ways that have honed the many relationship-focused roles I have held, experiences which I impart, beyond curriculum-based objectives, to my students. Blessed with many great mentors, there are as many life lessons that I smile back on with admiration. Some lessons were learned immediately, others, in time, even from those who seemed hard on me, yet rightfully so; things like tenacity and perseverance, being able to read people, and what they want or need, and mostly, listening and learning. My passion for local and sustainable food is what I believe will have the greatest impact on my students, who will surely teach me as much, in return.
Blessed with many great mentors, there are as many life lessons that I smile back on with admiration. Some lessons were learned immediately, others, in time…
My lessons began last semester, when some students engaged in the excitement of fermentation and preservation, after I brought in a friend’s book, Batch by Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison. Asking questions, taking photos of processes and recipes, they crowded around it, some even purchasing the book for their collections. That made me proud.
I’m going into this eyes wide open: We’ll talk about how the very first restaurants and haute cuisine were formed in France, the societal impact of refrigeration, the Green Revolution, charcuterie and fermentation, cheese, the world garden, oceans, the good and bad of GMOs, and more.
Deep into this process, I will check back with you on this, soon. As always, thanks for reading, and for the opportunity to invite you behind the scenes for a glimpse of my extended family of people and personalities of this great industry that I call home.
Inspire, and be inspired.