Monday, March 7, 2016

Local Food Skills and the Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the London Training Centre

 Culinary Education:  Local Food Skills and the Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the London Training Centre

BY BRYAN LAVERY

Since 2002, David Corke has been the Executive Director of London Training Centre (LTC), an award winning, non-profit social mission driven organization, which applies market-based strategies to self-fund programs and initiatives that help people have a positive impact in the community.

 Corke is a highly-respected and fervent food educator with a rock-steady commitment. He is a long-time proponent for local and sustainable food systems, from both a civic and economic development viewpoint.

When it started in 1987, the LTC helped disenfranchised young people find employment in the food service industry. Since then, however, LTC has morphed into a cutting-edge and multifaceted organization providing food skills training, advocacy for careers in food service, and other services that range from computer training to banquet staffing.

Corke’s work in the non-profit sector was influenced by a successful 20-year career in the private sector. He owned and operated restaurants, as well as being employed by a large foodservice corporation in the highly competitive Toronto market.

I asked Corke his thoughts on why he thinks the restaurant industry is struggling so hard to find talent.

“I think the short answer is twofold. Speaking locally about the London and region market – one where many customers are looking for consistency of product and price point, there are a limited number of restaurants where skilled chefs do not quickly become bored. At the same time, as culinary educators and advocates for the industry we believe that the staff of an operation should be considered much more than a labour cost on the profit and loss statement. Our point: the restaurant business is about people so if the goal is a dining room full of guests having incredible food experiences, owners need the best people working for them. If restaurateurs want their operations to be “exceptional” then they have to be the “exception” — and pay more for the best.”

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has funded the LTC, for a second year, to provide a Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship program. The course, taught by expert chef instructors  Steve James and John Fisher, examines in depth safe knife skills, kitchen sanitation and safety, fundamental cooking principles, menu design, pastry baking and bread making practices, nose to tail butchery, identification and use of seasonal produce, stock and sauce making. Limited enrollment and small class size offer a better opportunity for an exclusive student learning experience. The first session began at the end of January, and the second intake will commence in June/July.

Last year’s pilot program was a success. Students were given four months of full-time practical instruction. This was by followed by 12-week paid work placements with restaurants such as Roco Taco, Bertoldi’s Trattoria, Dolcetto and The Red Rabbit, and with Chef David Van Eldik at the Convention Centre. Some participants have moved on into culinary programs at Fanshawe College. “A lot of chefs we approached in the community are willing to take participants afterwards for co-ops. If they take them on as an apprentice after the placement, there is also additional funding available to them,” says James.

Applicants are screened by James and Fisher and must demonstrate a commitment to the program. They are required have to an Ontario Secondary School Diploma or equivalent and be available to attend the program full time.

Guest speakers, including chefs and restaurateurs, are slated for each session. In the past, Stratford chef Simon Briggs has given pastry demonstrations. Chef Michael Smith has spoken about the profession and chef/restaurateur Mark Kitching has talked to students about setting expectations in the restaurant industry. This session, restaurateur Ian Kennard from Willie’s Café will teach about food costing. The students are also taken on field trips. Destinations have included Antony John’s certified organic farm and greenhouses ‘Soiled Reputation’; the Milky Whey Fine Cheese Sheep in Stratford for a cheese tasting; and Jill’s Table for an olive oil tasting.

The true essence of the LTC narrative is that they have achieved the whole seasonal cycle of our relationship with food. They are not only culinary educators and employment specialists; they are also farmers, retailers, caterers, food artisans, restaurateurs, funders and local food advocates.

The Local Food Skills program connects people to food. It provides solid food-based knowledge and provides participants with the opportunity to explore the idea of working with food as a job or a profession.  The program is a full-time three week course that provides skills training, industry certifications and learning experiences including fundamental culinary skills, foodservice styles, growing, harvesting and retailing food at a farmers’ market. Revenue from the wildly popular monthly Local Food Skills dinner put on by students supports this program.

Last spring, LTC launched The Larder, an online food store. Items are offered weekly, and might include croissants, Montreal-style bagels, specialty breads, and chicken and veal soup stocks; all are prepared by Culinary Program pre-apprenticeship students.

 Local Food Feasts Catering is another arm of the organization and operated by LTC with the support of the Local Food Skills program and the banquet staffing business known as Allumette. 

Feastival, the LTC’s fundraiser takes place annually. Last July, the popular event was a great success with artisanal food stations, guest chefs, live music, and Ontario wines and craft beers. Students of the Local Food Skills Program catered the event alongside special guest chefs and local food artisans like Las Chicas del Café, Railway City Brewing Company and volunteers from Les Marmitons London, who worked the pizza oven with chef John Fisher. 

 This year the Feastival will relocate to the St. Thomas Canada Southern Railway Station (CASO) for a sit-down “Harvest Dinner” for approximately 150 people on Friday October 7th. The dinner is a perfect way to celebrate seasonal local food while supporting Local Food Skills programming.
If you would like to attend one of the monthly Local Food Skills dinners, learn more about the program, or to share your thoughts and ideas about food, the staff encourage you to contact them.

 For more information please call London Training Centre 519-685-4331 or visit www.londontraining.on.ca

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