New facility awaits cooking students as downtown expands hospitality offerings

Come the new year, a sparkling new kitchen in NorQuest College will be the site of a course designed to supply the market with much-needed commercial cooks.

The kitchen, located on the fourth floor of the Singhgmar Centre at 10215 108 St., was made possible through a $500,000 donation by the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation Hospitality Institute. Christine Channer Auguste, program lead of NorQuest’s Hospitality Institute and Lab, says a new course — called Foundations of Cooking — has been designed to give participants the skills to assume positions on the line in a quick-service outlet.

Local chef Brad Smoliak, who will participate as an instructor and brand ambassador for the program, says local restaurants are always crying out for staff to handle anything from flipping a burger to building a sandwich. But sometimes those skills are hard to come by.

“(Students will) get that basic learning and then maybe they will want to go to NAIT later and be a chef,” said Smoliak in a phone interview.

The Foundations course, created by a group of local chefs including industry leaders such as Shane Chartrand, Medi Taub and Brad Lazarenko, is nine weeks long and includes a five-day introduction to Canadian Indigenous cooking. The cost is $10,000, all in, and includes uniforms and a knife set.

Channer Auguste acknowledges that’s a lot of money for workers who will most likely be moving into minimum-wage jobs, and notes that because the Foundations course is non-credit, students can’t generally apply for grants or bursaries.

But she says NorQuest is looking to partner with large hospitality groups, such as oilfield camp operators or government food service divisions, that might sponsor courses for employees. She points out that any employer who wishes to put employees through the program can apply to the Canada-Alberta Job Grant, which may fund between two-thirds and 100 per cent of job training for courses over 21 hours.

A group has already completed the newly-developed Foundations program, albeit outside of the new kitchen. Thirteen students from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation took the program, which covers everything from basic food safety to knife skills, on the southern Alberta reserve this past summer. (NorQuest will deliver its course outside Edmonton.) Channer Auguste says 12 of 13 students who took the class are working in the hospitality industry, both on and off the reserve.

The ever-expanding ice district, soon to be home to a new J.W. Marriott hotel, has an ongoing need for entry-level cooks, says Channer August.

“Edmonton is blowing up right now when it comes to hospitality and culinary,” she says.

But you don’t have to become a line cook in order to enjoy the new facility. Anybody can sign up for a host of new, one-day courses being held in the new year, including one on mental health and self-care for the culinary industry by Café Linnea’s chef Kelsey Johnson, plus an introduction to Indigenous cooking with Brad Lazarenko, and another on reducing food waste at home with Colleen Heidecker. Those courses are $175 each.

The kitchen will also be available to the community to use for product demonstrations or other industry-specific events.

“It’s laid out beautifully,” says Smoliak of the new digs. “There’s natural sunlight, which you never get in a kitchen. Usually you’re in some back, dingy space. It’s going to be a really good program.”

lfaulder@postmedia.com

Follow me on Twitter @eatmywordsblog.

 

 

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