On international field trips
One of the things I noticed at my school when I came aboard is that there were no international trips. It’s really an economics thing. We aren’t in an affluent neighbourhood. I pitched it to a group of grade 10 students and said “what do you guys think about working for a couple of years to try and raise some money to go on a trip?” We did our first trip in 2011 to Italy and we’re now fundraising for our fifth trip, which will be back to Italy in 2020.
On starting a food festival
The trips cost about $4,000 per student – the student comes up with 25 per cent of the cost and we work together to raise the rest. I used to take the kids to do food festivals – the Mac and Cheese Festival and the Garlic Festival. We created our own salsas and jams with produce from our school’s garden. Eventually, we started our own festival, the Thistletown Chef’s Harvest Party, and invited chefs to come in. This year we had 25 chefs.
On motivating students
Given direction and opportunity they can achieve anything. That's the point of this project. I preach to the kids that if they have faith and work hard, it usually pays off. They do good things, good things happen to them.
On the importance of travel
The kids all say it’s been one of the best experiences of their life. They’re getting out of their comfort zone and living in another country. They’re immersed in the culture. They're learning about the history. They’re learning to be a bit independent. They’re learning the culinary traditions, of course. It’s very immersive.
On cooking less
More than ever, young people are cooking less. If you look back to your parents and your grandparents, they were cooking every night. With a lot of my students, I find out that they’re rarely having meals at home as a family. That’s because people aren’t cooking, don’t want to cook or don't know how to cook. So cooking is not just an important course, it’s an important life skill they need to have. We’re worried that with the Ford cuts to education that they may be cutting our programme, but I think we should be in every school. We should be expanding.
On working with youth
People need to invest the time in training young people and getting them excited about the industry. And the way you do that is by exposing them to it. Chefs need to invest in college students, taking in interns and students, sharing their knowledge and encouraging young people to come in. Otherwise, we’re not going to have anyone left in our restaurants.
On the stigma of trades
It’s always tough to get students interested in trades. Skilled trades are one of the biggest needs of our job market. Parents are always thinking about university and their kids becoming doctors and lawyers. You have the added pressure of the hospitality industry not always being well paid. The hours are long. And we've all documented the problems in the industry. I think that's slowly changing. There are lots of restaurants trying to adopt a more employee-friendly atmosphere.