An International Chefs Day for Students

By Martin Aller-Stead

International Chefs Day is a time for us to share, celebrate and — for truly great chefs — teach. Chefs Paul Hoag, from McMaster University; Kira Smith, from Shalit Foods; and David Franklin, from Sysco Southwestern Ontario, all brought that spirit to secondary students in Monarch Park Collegiate’s culinary arts and hospitality program, sharing their passion for cooking and letting the class know how to embark on career in the industry. The first step: preparing lunch for 45 guests.

Into the Fire

The visiting chefs demonstrated some new-school techniques and technology to the would-be chefs. Hoag showed off a Spherificator, a molecular gastronomy standby that turns food into pearls, and made macaroons with aquafaba, the protein-rich liquid by-product of cooked pulses. Smith taught students about allergic sensitivities and the differences between grains, while Franklin shared his deep knowledge of the entire industry, and created new ways for my students to think about themselves in the wonderful world of food. Everyone had a chance to try things, ask questions and taste samples.

Then it was time to put theory into practice. Each chef took a group of students and focused on one dish to create with flair and perfection. Franklin oversaw the hot line and had students make two risottos, an al funghi and a quattro formaggi. Hoag took on garde manger and showed his students how to make a classic caprese salad, but with some gorgeous changes. Instead of plates, they plated the basil, tomatoes and mozzarella on large blocks of pink salt, and bringing the Spherificator back, used balsamic vinegar pearls. Smith and her team ensured that the room looked beautiful and that the apples pies, made the day before, were properly presented.

While the chefs and students hurriedly got lunch together, I counted down the minutes and called out the minutes, then seconds, until all the guests showed up. The pace picked up with each call, and each group pushed to get their dish done. Stir, blend, set out, dash into the room, repeat.

Showtime

That day, the school kitchen had become a restaurant kitchen. Hoag pushed his team hard, demanding both speed and accuracy. Smith’s students hustled trolleys into the dining room and gingerly dropped salads onto the tables they had set. From across the hot line, Franklin ensured that his small team cooked quickly and cleanly. Then, almost too quickly, my students’ fourth-ever rodeo and a loud call: “showtime! Here they come!”

The student-chefs started plating, garnishing and running the plates out to guests as quickly as possible. Care was taken to leave two spaces at each table for a student and guest chef. Everyone ate together and had a chance to slow down for a moment or two and enjoy the fruits of their labour. It was a well-deserved break after a hard day’s work and what International Chefs Day is all about. Special thanks goes to the students and our trio of guest chefs. My kitchen is ever theirs.

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