Category: CFWI News

Getting Schooled: Why Changing Palates are Driving Innovation at Canada’s Culinary Institutions

Canada’s culinary landscape is changing and so are its culinary teaching institutions. “I’ve seen a lot over 30 years and I think we are now providing the best culinary education we’ve ever had in this country,” says Bruce McAdams, assistant professor with the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management at the University of Guelph. “We really have improved the quality of our education and are responding better to the needs of the industry.”

While there have historically been only a handful of institutions in this country offering professional culinary training courses and turning out qualified professionals, “Now, we have great [culinary] colleges across the country. They are providing the industry with well-trained, qualified cooks,” says McAdams.

A major trend McAdams is seeing is the diversification of schools’ curriculums. Today’s students learn not only the basics of French and English cooking, but many have access to pâtisserie programs, sommelier courses and training in a wider range of international styles and world cuisines.

McAdams says restaurants also want chefs and bakers who know how to manage a kitchen. “Ten years ago, there were no culinary schools offering leadership training,” McAdams adds. “They were just putting students through cooking classes. Now, they are teaching courses in leadership . . . Today, being a chef is about being able to manage a team. I would say that it is as important as being able to cook good food.”

The following are some of Canada’s top culinary education institutions.

Red River College, Winnipeg
Red River College’s two-year Hospitality and Culinary Arts program is designed to help students develop the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to work a fast-paced kitchen. The courses are set up to be a combination of theory and intensive lab-based practice. In the second year, students undergo more intensive lab-based courses and spend approximately 300 hours in culinary labs. “We assume all of the students who are coming into the course are coming in with zero culinary experience,” says Michael Fitzhenry, program coordinator and culinary instructor. “We take two intakes of about 40 students each year, start them off with basic kitchen principles and then separate them into two groups — cold kitchen or pâtisserie. The pâtisserie is an introduction to baking techniques and we created that course because we are seeing more demand for those skills in the industry today.” By the second year, students will also work in one of three student-run food outlets: a lunch outlet offering a globally influenced cuisine in a Marché-style; a short-order outlet that prepares daily breakfasts and hot sandwiches; and Jane’s — a 60-seat full-service lunch and dinner restaurant. A key feature of the Red River program is a strong emphasis on the business side of operating a kitchen, helping future chefs understand what goes into creating and maintaining a profitable kitchen/restaurant. This includes the fundamentals of cost control, learning how to calculate daily food-and-beverage costs, systems needed to maintain profitability, and how to establish dining room controls. Famous graduates include Gordon Bailey, who opened Lot 30 in P.E.I. in 2008 with his wife Traci. He recently returned to Winnipeg to teach a new generation of students at the college. Another is Eric Lee, executive chef at The Merchant Kitchen in Winnipeg. Like Bailey, he is now teaching at the school.

Yukon College, Culinary Arts & Foodservices, Whitehorse, Yukon
The eight-month Culinary Arts program provides students with training in everything from the preparation of stocks and sauces, baking and desserts, to kitchen management. “Each fall, 16 students are accepted into the program,” says Ryan Cumming, Culinary Arts instructor, Culinary Arts & Foodservices. “After an intensive block of theory covering the basics of safety, sanitation, organization and cooking methods, students are placed into groups of four where they rotate through a variety of stations which expose them to different ingredients, cooking methods and techniques. Students begin to cook for the general public in a commercial-kitchen setting just a few short weeks after the program begins.”

Yukon College culinary students serve food in the College’s Kinnikinnick Kaff and the 40-seat Hilltop Bistro. “They also have opportunities throughout the school year to take part in catering functions of various sizes and scales, giving them a chance to experience different facets of the industry,” Cumming adds. Recently, the program catered a banquet for Yukon Agriculture utilizing as many local products as possible. “The abundance of locally sourced ingredients available during this time was eye-opening for students and staff alike. Students also cater Yukon College’s annual holiday party in December.”

Cumming says graduates of the program find their way into various positions throughout the industry, with most students heading to work soon after completing their coursework. “Some choose to continue on as apprentices and achieve the goal of Red-Seal certification. Others have embraced their entrepreneurial spirit and started catering businesses or opened food trucks.”

Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
With more than 700 students, the 40-year-old Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College offers a variety of programs covering beer, wine and culinary innovation. Programs include Artisan Distilling and a Wine Business Management course.

The school boasts a 40-acre vineyard, three-acre hop yard, 30 beehives, tender-fruit orchard, greenhouse and vegetable gardens to provide product for the courses.

“We have a staff of professors that are some of the most unique in the world,” says Craig Youdale, dean, Canadian Food and Wine Institute. “Our focus is on hands-on training with our eight culinary labs, sensory rooms, chocolate sugar room, teaching restaurants, catering services, teaching winery and brewery and food-sciences labs. We recently added more than 15,000 sq. ft. to our facility with three new kitchens and two new sensory rooms, including a butchery/charcuterie lab, as well as a new bake shop.”

The school also offers a one-year certificate program in baking and pastry arts and culinary skills, where students learn to apply advanced food theories to all aspects of food preparation.

A 14-week Baker Apprenticeship program is also offered, where apprentices complete 700 hours of college instruction and approximately three years of on-the-job training as paid trainees. Those who complete the Basic and Advanced Baker are eligible to pursue the advanced designation of Pâtissier through Niagara College. A similar cook-apprenticeship program is also offered and students will learn such key skills as professional baking fundamentals, culinary techniques, practical cooking and garde manger and modern pastry craft.

Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver
Founded in 1997, Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts is an intensive program designed to provide students the skills needed for working in modern kitchens. Students are expected to attend class for a minimum of seven hours per day, five days a week. All students start at the same level of instruction; classes are built around learning kitchen basics and then building on those skills with daily lab work.

Students have three programs from which to choose: a one-year, full-time Culinary and Baking & Pastry Arts diploma program; a six-month Baking and Pastry Arts Diploma Program; and a six-month Culinary Arts program.

“Our class sizes are small, with [only] 15 students in each of our eight kitchens, and each kitchen has a dedicated instructor,” says Julian Bond, executive chef and vice-president of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. “Our focus is building on the basics and repeating those skills until you really learn them. It is about repetition and the honing of your skills. Many schools will teach you how to bake a cake, for example. But what is the point of a culinary school if you make a cake just once? Here you will learn to do that so that you can bake that cake for a restaurant setting without having to look at a recipe.”

Some illustrious alumni who have come out of the program include Eric Hendry of Bar Von Der Fels in Calgary, Alta., and Thao Nguyen who works as the pastry chef at the Little Chief Restaurant in the Grey Eagle Resort Hotel in Calgary, Alta.

George Brown School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, Toronto
According to Christine Walker, chair, Chef’s School, Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts at George Brown College, there are a variety of programs at basic, intermediate and advanced levels available to prepare students to become qualified chefs, bakers and pastry makers.

Students can enroll in apprentice, certificate, diploma and post-diploma programs, as well as a post-diploma Italian Culinary Arts program built around a three-month placement in Italy at the Institute of Advanced Culinary Arts. Students also get a chance to develop their skills further at The Chefs’ House — a student-focused concept restaurant in downtown Toronto.

While many culinary schools offer a baking and pâtisserie program, George Brown boasts an Advanced French Pâtisserie Post-graduate program. “Advanced pâtisserie is very much sought after now by the industry,” Walkers adds. “The program offers an opportunity to live in France for four months — in school for one of those months, five days a week, and then eight weeks working across France and learning about high-end pastries and bread baking.” The program is run in partnership with Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie (ENSP) and the Ducasse School in France.

Among the famous alumni is Jamie Kennedy, who graduated from the Cook Apprenticeship program at George Brown in 1977.

Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, Toronto 
Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Artsrecently unveiled a new Culinary Arts Centre — a modern high-tech learning centre boasting several contemporary kitchen labs, and a beverage lab and bake lab. Students also showcase what they have learned at the school’s full-service The Local Cafe and Restaurant, as well as the Centennial College Event Centre.

Approximately 300 students enroll each year in the culinary and baking arts and management programs. The goal is to give students not just the strong practical skills for cooking and baking demanded by the industry, but to instill in them the skills to manage a kitchen and restaurant.

The one-year Culinary Skills program emphasizes seasonal cooking using locally source ingredients. Students can also take a second year where they will learn management skills for operating a kitchen, restaurant or catering operation. The one-year Baking and Pastry Arts Skills program teaches the fundamentals of baking and pastry preparation, and a second-year management program focuses on the skills needed to operate a baking operation in a restaurant or as a standalone business.

Joe Baker, dean at the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, says the focus for the students is on what he calls experiential learning. “Our students will get hands-on experience right away,” he adds. “The Local Café and Restaurant and the Centennial College Event Centre, give our students the chance to work in quick-service, full-service and event/catering environments. It is not about taking theoretical courses — our students are serving and working with the public as early as the first week.”

Suzanne Caskie, chair of Culinary Arts says the management component is an attractive feature. “We all know when you start out you will have an entry-level position, but for you to really be career ready, you need to have more than just the ‘hard skills’.” Instructors include chef Rene Chauvin, former executive chef at The Distillery Restaurant Group Inc., and chef Sally Chiu-Hildebrandt.

Humber College School of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Toronto
Humber College’s baking and culinary programs have been teaching future chefs an extensive range of cooking, baking and management skills since 1982. Rudi Fishbacher, assistant dean with the Schools of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism, says students entering the program will spend half of their classroom time in the school’s kitchens and pastry labs perfecting their skills.

The school has seven fully equipped kitchens and three pastry labs. Students can enroll in a Baking and Pastry Arts Management diploma program focusing on traditional and contemporary techniques, as well as international trends. The Cook (Cuisine) Apprenticeship certificate program provides the fundamentals of menu planning, costing, butchery, garde manger and charcuterie, nutrition, baking, purchasing and product management. The Culinary Skills certificate program is designed to provide theoretical and practical skills, while learning in labs and real-world settings with the latest kitchen technology and equipment.

As part of a student’s training, they will also work in the 120-seat Humber Room — an on-campus, upscale-casual restaurant open to the public for lunch and dinner. The school’s retail store also sells products prepared by students in the baking and pastry arts/culinary programs.

“Our goal is to give our graduates a solid foundation on which to build their careers,” says Fishbacher. “We are one of the few colleges today that still do, and insist on, a full-butchery component as part of our program. Our students learn how to break down a whole lamb, how to make certain cuts of meat and know what a good cut is.”

Stratford Chefs School, Stratford, Ont.
The Stratford Chefs School was founded in 1983 by James Morris (Rundles), Joseph Mandel (The Church Restaurant) and Eleanor Kane (The Old Prune) as a private, non-profit institution operating out of the kitchens of Rundles and the Old Prune. This year, the school moved to a new facility to accommodate the 70 students who attend its two-year program each year.

Randi Rudner, program manager with the Stratford Chefs School, says the school’s focus is on training in all aspects of owning and operating a small restaurant, and is staffed by restaurant professionals who are currently working in successful restaurants throughout North America.

“Those graduates who decide not to pursue careers in the kitchen have gone on to a wide variety of endeavours in the food and hospitality industry,” says Rudner. “Our alumni are educators, sommeliers, photographers, recipe testers, butchers, food-safety inspectors, television and media personalities, fishmongers, restaurant designers, cheesemakers and maitre d’hotels.”

The two-year program is broken down into two levels in which students learn the fundamentals of classical and modern practical cookery and pastry — as well as front-of-house service — including food history, food costing, culinary management, sanitation, nutrition, communications, wine and writing.

“In the eight months between [the two levels], the students are expected to work in restaurants to further develop their skill,” adds Rudner.

Rudner says the school also offers students the chance to learn from and work next to many internationally recognized chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Theo Randall of Mayfair Restaurant and Jacques Chibois, of La Bastide Saint Antoine. Well-known Stratford Chefs School alumni include James Walt, executive chef at Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, B.C. and Chris McDonald, who was chef at Cava in Toronto. FH

Students stomp their way to victory

Mike Johnson keeps the juice flowing out the barrel as Julia Korchvska and Christine Lehotay stomp the grapes. – Mike Zettel/Metroland Photo

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Actually, scratch that. They have machines to press juice from grapes, so no one has to take their shoes and socks off, step into a half barrel and start stomping, feeling the juice and grape entrails slosh around their toes.

But that fact didn’t stop 30-some students in Niagara College’s wine business management program from doing just that. As part of professor Ron Giesbrecht’s viticulture and the environment class, the students spent Friday afternoon harvesting nearly 200 kg of grapes from the college vineyard. They then formed three teams with the politically themed names Tromps, TrueToes and Putin the Ground, the latter being a reference to a natural fermentation technique which literally sees the juice stored in a hole in the ground.

The purpose, apart from having some competitive fun, is for the graduate, who may or may not have a background in winemaking, get an understanding of basic in how it’s made.

“There’s nothing added,” Geisbrecht said. “You’re doing nothing and still making wine.”

Once the grapes were collected and divided up, it was time for the students to get into their groups and take turns in the barrels, using their feet to squish as much juice as possible from the grapes. To keep the juice flowing, some students got their hands dirty by poking their fingers through the hole to remove the clogs formed by leftover grape skins.

Christine Lehotay, who returned to school after years of working as a travel agent, said Friday was her first stomp.

“It was a blast,” she said. “It was great.

“A bit messy, but the ancient winemaking technique is a bit messy.”

In the end it was team Tromps who came out on top, producing 44.5 litres of juice, compared to team TrueToes’ 40.5 and team Putin the Ground’s 41. For their efforts, each student on the winning team went home with a prize, the Sour Toe, a loaf shaped like a foot which was created by students in the culinary program.

Move over grapes: it’s hops harvest time in Niagara

Roger Vail hands hops plants to Len Vanhoffen on the harvesting machine at the Niagara College campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, during the first full-scale harvest of the hop yard on Tuesday. – Paul Forsyth/Metroland

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Niagara has become known far and wide for its top-notch wineries and its seemingly endless vineyards of high-end European grape varieties, but soon it could become known for a crop used to make another alcoholic beverage: beer.

At the Niagara College campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Tuesday, horticulture students gathered to watch as the first full harvest of the college’s new hop yard took place.

Using a specialized harvest machine powered by a tractor, Roger Vail and Len Vanhoffen fed the hop plants reaching up to 20 feet long into the machinery, while Isaac Braun gathered the actual hops that the machine separated from the stalk and leaves.

Gavin Robertson, who manages the campus vineyard and who is helping to co-ordinate the hop yard with the college’s research and development department, said hops used to be a common crop in Ontario many decades ago but eventually the brewing industry came to rely on hops from Germany and the Czech Republic.

The surge in popularity of Ontario’s craft beer industry, which has seen small breweries set up shop in Niagara, is helping to spur a newfound interest in locally-grown hops, said Robertson.

But what hops there are grown in North America are mostly from the Pacific Northwest with its vastly more wet climate, meaning growers here will have to learn how hops grow in Niagara’s climate and soil conditions, he said.

“It’s very much an experimental hop yard,” said Robertson. “Everybody’s dying for local hops (but) we almost have to learn how to farm hops again.”

The acre-and-a-half of hops has 12 varieties such as Cascade, Mount Rainier, Glacier, Nugget, Vanguard, and Sorachi Ace, each of which can impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavours.

“It’s almost like a spice cabinet for brewers,” said Robertson. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Kelly Byer, a research lab technologist with the college’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute Innovation Centre, said the hop yard is serving as a lab in the field to help the college’s teaching brewery and researchers to study moisture content, flavour compounds, and diseases and pests to which the hops are susceptible in Niagara.

“It’s a bit of trial and error to see what’s going to do well here and what’s not going to do as well,” she said.

Robertson said the hops, once dried, will be used by the teaching brewery. Surplus hops will also be available for local craft breweries, he said.

“Craft beer is really riding this energetic wave (and) these supportive industries are coming along,” he said. “The interest in local, local, local (hops) is really high.”

Vail, who has a 700-acre vineyard at his VailMont Vineyards operation in Vineland, now also has seven acres of hops there. The part-time instructor at the campus is also working on planting commercial hop yards for others and is growing the college’s hops yard.

Justin Trudeau Joins the Cool(-Climate) Kids of Canadian Wine

Also in Unfiltered, the discovery of the oldest-ever wine in Italy, a cancer fund-raiser for a Napa winemaker, and the “blue wine” saga continues to unfold.

Justin Trudeau, not to be confused with Canada’s most famous winemaker, Wayne Gretzky.

Presumably in an effort to get Millennials more engaged in its brand, Canada has joined the long list of entities releasing their own wines. And to help promote them, Canada recently enlisted celebrity Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (a proto-Millennial himself) to talk and taste among the vines at the Niagara College Teaching Winery last weekend. On his morning visit, Trudeau inspected some clusters at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus’ vineyard with college president Dan Patterson and head winemaker Gavin Robertson. To get the immersive experience, the PM also stopped by the vat room to do some hands-on learning with students, who showed off enological gizmos like a hydrometer and presented the PM with a glass of their final exam. Finally, Trudeau donned his somm finest—Burgundy-and-Gïk plaid blazer—to praise his local pours.

Per the St. Catharines Standard, the PM remarked that the industry had “grown by leaps and bounds” and the wines had become “world-renowned in terms of quality, in terms of product, and having institutions like Niagara College … for young Canadians to develop the expertise that is going to be more and more necessary in the world of wine.” With Trudeau now hoisting glasses, Unfiltered sees an opportunity for diplomacy-by-blind-tasting at the table with fellow enophile heads of state and proxies Emmanuel Macronand Eric Trump.

NC students host Project Brew

Mark Hostrawser accepts the Matt Soos Memorial Fund

right to left- Dow Scoggins, US Open Beer Championship director; Jon Downing, NC brewmaster; Dan Patterson, NC president

Student-made craft beers were in the spotlight on August 11 as NC Brewmaster students presented Project Brew Expo 150.

Held at the St. Catharines Market Square, Project Brew was hosted by students in the final semester class of the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, who displayed a selection of 17 beer styles that were locally developed and produced at the NC Teaching Brewery.

The evening event drew members of the college community –including president Dan Patterson – as well as the general public.

At the event, Dow Scoggins, director of the U.S. Open Beer Championship, presented  two bronze medals won by the College at this year’s competition: for Beer 101 Strong and Beer 101 Bitter.

The Matt Soos Memorial Fund, which is awarded annually to a student who brews the best beer in the Niagara College Annual Brewmaster Competition, was also distributed at the event to Mark Hostrawser. Hostrawser was awarded $4,500 and his signature beer was served at the event in alongside the other student beers.

Project Brew is hosted by students in their final year of the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program who create the beers as well as organize the festival.

Wine grad behind new De Simone Vineyards in NOTL

A Niagara College grad is behind a new winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Vincenzo De Simone was a 2011 graduate of NC’s Winery and Viticulture Technician program. He is taking on the role of winemaker at  De Simone Vineyards.

The winery celebrated its grand opening on the weekend of August 5-7. It is located at 865 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake.

About Vincenzo De Simone

As a young child, Vincenzo Robert De Simone always enjoyed listening to stories of his family members and their winemaking history. Little did he know that he would one day follow a similar path. Not only did he listen to their stories, but winemaking was also in his blood. He spent over 9 years mastering his winemaking techniques and skills at various local wineries before embarking on his own adventure.

Vincenzo also studied winemaking at Niagara College, graduating in 2011 from the Winery and Viticulture program. Vincenzo strongly believes in the saying “great wine is made in the vineyard”, and is very knowledgeable in both viticulture and winemaking practices.

The techniques he uses in the vineyard are the first step to creating premium, high quality wines. “Winemaking is an art”, says Vincenzo, “but it must be felt from the heart”. Vincenzo is very passionate about winemaking and he puts his skills to the test when it comes to making wine. He takes a lot of pride in what he does and it shows in the final product.

-Info from De Simone Vineyards website:


Bench Brewing partners with Niagara College Teaching Brewery; scholarships awarded to future leaders in the Ontario craft brew industry

Bench Brewing Company president Matt Giffen (front, fourth from left), the first recipient of the Bench Brewing Graduating Student Award, Matthew Shea (front, fifth from left), and NC president Dan Patterson (front, third from right), are joined by students and faculty from the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program and the team from Bench Brewing Company to celebrate a $30,000 gift from Bench Brewing.


With a $30,000 donation to Niagara College, Bench Brewing is pleased to announce its long-term partnership with the Niagara College Teaching Brewery to award three scholarships each year to outstanding graduates starting August 9, 2017.  As the craft brewing industry continues to grow in quality and reputation, these scholarships will continue fostering innovation, inspire high standards of excellence and prepare graduates for professional success.

“We are honoured to begin a long-term partnership with the Niagara College Teaching Brewery in providing an annual scholarship for outstanding graduating students,” said Matt Giffen, founder and president of Bench Brewing. “These talented new graduates represent the future of the Ontario craft beer industry as it continues to grow and strive for new levels of quality and innovation.”

Partnering with the Niagara College Teaching Brewery, Canada’s first and largest teaching brewery, will help further academic and professional excellence not only for graduates, but also incoming students.

“We thank Bench brewing for its generous support that not only supports the future of the craft beer industry, but our mission of ‘enriching lives and fulfilling dreams’ of our students,” said Craig Youdale, dean of Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute.

“The very generous award set up by Matt of Bench Brewing recognizes two of the key attributes of any brewer and their products, quality and consistency,” said Brewmaster professor Jon Downing. “By recognizing the high level of continual effort over four semesters both in the classroom, as a volunteer at events and in the brewery, Matthew Shea is a natural first recipient of the award.”

The Bench Brewing Scholarship – of $2,000– will be awarded to three NC Brewmaster students each year for the next five years. It will be awarded to a student in the final term of the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program who exhibits academic excellence, excellent brewing skills, and collaboration and a passion for the industry.

The first recipient of a Bench Brewing Scholarship is Thornhill resident Matthew Shea, a university graduate who followed his dreams to enter the craft brewing industry two years ago by enrolling in NC’s Brewmaster program. Now a recent graduate of the program (June 2017), Shea applauded the support he has received from the craft brew industry as a student and said he was grateful for the Bench Brewing scholarship.

“Financial assistance is greatly beneficial to students,” said Shea. “Students face a lot of pressure and time requirements trying to balance school, work, and family duties, so any assistance is greatly appreciated.”

About Bench Brewing

Currently under construction, Bench Brewing Company is proudly located near Beamsville, Ontario in the Twenty Valley of the Niagara Escarpment. Bench Brewing embraces the local agricultural traditions of the area and is inspired by the Belgian farmhouse-style of brewing. Opening in 2017 in the converted historic Maple Grove Schoolhouse, the site will feature a three-acre hops field, wild ale and barrel fermentation program, tap room and beer garden.

About Niagara College

Currently celebrating its 50th year as a College of Applied Arts and Technology, NC is a leader in applied education and a key contributor to the economies of Niagara and Ontario. A regional college with global reach, NC offers more than 100 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs. Visit