Chef Spotlight: Chef Osvaldo Avila

Chef Osvaldo Avila

Osvaldo Avila is bringing his zest for culinary creativity to the table as part of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute Chef Signature Series.

The March 22 event to be held at Benchmark Restaurant will be the third installment in the series comprised of six dinner events each designed to showcase talents and signature styles of a different College chef professor.

Avila a Cuban-born chef who trained in Spain and Canada promises an “explosion of flavours” in his four-course meal. His signature dishes to be served that evening will celebrate his roots while elevating Cuban cuisine to new heights. The citrus flavours of his homeland will combine with influences from all the places his passion for cooking has led him to – including the Niagara region.

Avila has lived and worked in the Niagara Region for the past 14 years. Before he joined the staff of Niagara College in 2008 he worked at the Fallsview Casino Resort (17 Noir Ponte Vecchio) and Casino Niagara (21 Club).

How he came to work as a chef and consequently living and working in Canada was a result of simply “being at the right place at the right time” he says. An emphasis on hospitality-related careers when he grew up in Havana encouraged Avila to follow his career path and develop a passion for cooking.

After Avila graduated from the Technical Culinary Arts program at Sergio Perez College in 1995 he worked at several respected establishments in Cuba including Hotel Melia Cohiba Morro Cabana Resort and the Tocororo Restaurant. In 1998 he left for Spain to attend post-graduate program at the University of Saint Paul de Mar. He continued his education at Niagara College then at the University of Mexico in Mexico City before returning to Cuba. He landed a job at the Japanese Embassy in Havana where he cooked for various high-profile guests such as Fidel Castro former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

In 2002 he moved to Canada and became a Canadian citizen launching his career in the north at Casino Niagara. He never imagined leaving Cuba but seized the opportunities that came his way.

“I was working in one of the best restaurants in Havana and my career was going up so it was a tough decision” recalls Avila. “I knew when I left that it would be forever.”

Since he became a part-time teacher and sous-chef at Benchmark in 2008 he has embraced the chance to share his passion for the field and to educate students about quality food.

He was attracted by the uniqueness of the program at NC.

“It’s about all the great talent that we have and the diversity we have here and we offer our students a unique experience that they just don’t get at other colleges” he says.

When it comes to sharing his knowledge and expertise with students Avila takes a no-holds-barred approach. He encourages his students to do the same with respect to their studies.

“I tell them ‘in this beautiful country it’s up to you. What are you willing to give?” he says. “If I’m doing a good job it’s because I’m willing to give everything to it.”

Since he has been at NC he says his main joy has been his students. He enjoys mentoring them educating them about quality food and the fact that even after they move on they always come back to visit and ask advice.

In addition to training the future generation of chefs at NC Avila has been working with high school culinary students in Welland and Mississauga.

Avila is also popular outside of the kitchens at NC. He has become a go-to person for many students in the International department who seek him out for advice. Avila often gives them tips on adjusting to life in a country where they may not know the culture or language.

“I know what it’s like to speak a different language and I try to help him” he says. “They’ll ask me things like where I buy groceries or about transportation … it’s really cool.”

Avila looks forward to the Chef Signature Series dinner and he has been working with a group of students to prepare for weeks on the dishes that combine International and local influences.

While the spotlight will be on him on the evening of March 22 Avila is already deflecting it to his students.

“To me it’s all about student success – and that will be reflected in my dinner.”

Crystal Beach & Cayo Coco

Tostones & Ropa vieja

Malanga Chips Avocados Tuna BBQ Guava

Dillon’s Mojitos

Halifax &Havana

Pan Seared Salmon Candied Pineapple Poached Shrimp & Lobster Sugar Cane Velouté

NC Semidry Riesling 2010

WellandPort & Wajay

Tree and Twig Farm Winter Greens Quinoa Blue Cheese Stuffed Piquillos Peppers Saffron Vinaigrette

Dean’s List Pinot Noir 2009

Almira & Artemisa

Roasted Pork Loin Sweet Potato Crust Congrí Cake Calientes Heirloom Carrots Torched Onions Crema Verde

NC Guavalaga Certified Beer

Niagara & La Rampa

Crème Caramel Espresso Cake Icewine Gelato Brown Butter Biscotti Crushed Dulce de Leche Early Spring Flowers

Havana Club Reserve Rum