Nuu-chah-nulth-aht students complete cooking program

By Denise Titian, March 20, 2017

Nine students are ready for a new phase in their lives with line cook training through NETP (Nuu-chah-nulth
Employment and Training Program)

Photos by Denise Titian

Tofino — 

Correction: We have made a correction to the name of Chef Maré, who we misidentified in the original story. The name is Chef Maré Bruce. We apologize for this error.

Guests of  the Shipwreck Café were treated to a sumptuous five course lunch proudly prepared by students of the Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program’s Line Cook training on March 15.

The lower floor of Tofino’s Schooner Restaurant served as their training ground over the past four weeks.

This is the second year the wildly successful program has been offered. Last year Chef Tim May, owner of Red Can Gourmet in Tofino, trained aboriginal students. One of his students, Jordan Benson, now works at Long Beach Lodge and was a special guest at the Shipwreck Café lunch. Two others are currently working in Tofino area restaurants.

This year’s training took place at the Schooner Restaurant in Tofino with staff from the Tofino School of Cooking: Chef Dylan Tilston and Chef Maré Bruce.

Tofino is a foodie destination, said instructor Chef Tilston. There are plenty of employment opportunities in the restaurant industry.

“There are 3,000 under-employed kids and there is a shortage of kitchen staff,” said Chef Maré.

Anybody can get the dishwashing or prep cook jobs and those are low-paying, dead-end jobs. Line cooks in Tofino are generally higher paid than they could expect to be in Port Alberni.

So what is a line cook? According to Chef Maré, a line cook prepares food at a station in a professional kitchen along with other line cooks. A restaurant kitchen is laid out like an assembly line. In a tour of the kitchen, Chef Maré pointed out the various stations: appetizer, pans, grill and vegetables.

Four weeks earlier the students began learning about line cooking in a breakfast exercise and fundraising effort Chef Bruce planned for them. They were going to learn how to cook under realistic restaurant pressure by running a breakfast café.

They selected six items off of the Schooner Restaurant’s breakfast menu and invited people through social media to come to their training café, which they named Shipwreck Cafe. Patrons were enticed with the offer of a Schooner-style breakfast for $3.

The nine students ran their breakfast restaurant under the watchful eye of Chefs Maré and Dylan.

At first they were afraid of the pressure, but they learned that, together, they could do it.

“When they first came here they said, we want jobs. Now they’re saying, we love to cook,” said Chef Maré.

Needless to say, the concept was a huge success. “They were able to cook 60 meals in 90 minutes,” said Chef Maré, adding that they received lots of positive feedback from the community.

Chef Maré said that it was important to go through a life skills component during the training.

“Local West Coast training is important but there are challenges,” said Chef Maré. Even in Tofino, alcohol and drugs are real problems, causing dependability issues. A successful restaurant, especially in a small town, needs punctual, consistent staff.

“We have some here who have proven reliability and have risen above their demons,” he said of the graduates. All students took part in life skills training that not only focused on nutrition but also on teamwork and dependability.

For the luncheon, budding chefs proudly served their guests from their menu beautifully plated appetizers made of smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber followed by clam and bacon stew with freshly baked rosemary biscuits with lemon butter.

The main course featured cedar plank salmon with wild rice, spinach and corn. The dessert included fried bread with fresh and wild berry coulis.

It was clear that they were proud of their food and proud of their accomplishments as they described each dish before serving.

Jordan Benson congratulated this year’s class of line cooks. He told them that he had a difficult childhood and was often hungry. But that difficult childhood sparked his passion for food and now he works as a line cook in Tofino.

“Today I can do anything they ask me to do in the kitchen; I can follow a cookbook,” he told them. “But I want to learn how to pair food. I want to learn more about creativity,” he said, adding he plans to go to culinary school.

He congratulated the class, and encouraged them to follow their culinary dreams.

NETP manager Marissa Bennet says the next opportunity for line cook training will likely be later in the year during Tofino’s off season for tourists. It is the only time they have access to restaurant kitchens and chefs instructors.

She advises people to contact NETP Case Manager Evan Hauser if they are interested in the line cook training program.

The program wrapped up on Friday, March 17. Each student received a set of chef knives and a pair of comfortable shoes, along with a certificate of completion and a letter of recommendation from the chef that trained them.

The money raised from the Shipwreck Café breakfasts went toward a celebratory dinner for the graduates at a fine Tofino restaurant on Friday night.

“They (students) were so happy and things like this breakfast café set them up for success,” said Chef Maré.

“I loved learning about ingredients, cooking healthy food from scratch,” said Catherine Thomas, who added that she can apply her newly-learned skills not only at work but also when she cooks for her family.

Randall Frank said he was proud to serve local, traditional food that he and his team worked on together. He looks forward to this year’s job hunt, saying all he needs to do now is update his resumé.

This year’s line cook program graduates are Leandra Charlie, Randall Frank, Catherine Thomas, Marissa Amos, Bobby Burns and Mary-Ann Jackson of Tla-o-qui-aht, along with Rebecca Campbell and Roxanne Swan of Ahousaht and Collin Miller, Ehattesaht.

Bennet said the Line Cook program has been one of the more successful ones of all the NETP programs and they will continue to offer it as long as it is needed.

“Of the ten students that took the program last year, 80 per cent found employment,” she told Ha-Shilth-Sa.