Newcomers: Bringing a Love for Food to The Table

By Nastasha Alli

Roger Mooking, host of cooking show Everyday Exotic on the Food Network, understands that if there’s one thing that everyone in the world has a shared passion for, it’s simple, delicious, puts-a- smile-on-your-face, good food.

His multicultural roots reflect his cooking style; growing up, he learned to cook Chinese and Trinidadian food. "At three years old, I knew I wanted to be a chef," he says. "I have pursued that interest my entire life."

Mooking is now the owner and executive chef of two popular Toronto restaurants. As a professional chef with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, he knows the amount of hard work it takes to succeed in the culinary arts.

"There are many years of physical labour," Mooking explains, "before you are given the opportunity to contribute to a menu, or become the head chef one day." But the best part of his job, he adds, is seeing his customers happy and enjoying the food he has created. "It can be very instantly gratifying."

Chef instructors recognize the challenge of training to be a professional cook, particularly for newcomers. With so many culinary arts programs in Ontario, however, now is the perfect time to train. "If you’re ambitious, you can really do well," says Chef John Higgins, Director of George Brown College’s Chef School (where Mooking is a graduate). "For new Canadians, I think the opportunity in the culinary industry is wonderful."

According to a Statistics Canada report, the food service and hospitality industry had a 1.8 percent increase in employment over the last 12 months.

Chef Higgins says that one of the great things about working as a chef today is that there are different types of establishments to seek employment in. Certified chefs are being hired in places other than hotels and restaurants; jobs can be found in golf clubs, private residences, seniors’ homes, government or military bases, and even high-capacity food operations such as the Air Canada Centre.

“The great thing about Canada is that everyone has the opportunity to be successful,” Higgins explains, “because there are so many variations and flavours to cooking that people are interested in.”

Schools like George Brown College and Liaison College offer culinary arts training for people who want to learn how to cook professionally.

Most culinary arts programs follow a similar curriculum, from teaching basic culinary skills to advanced kitchen management. These usually include classes in safe food handling, nutrition, all major forms of cookery, baking and pastry, as well as basic culinary techniques, where students learn how to use professional kitchen equipment and develop their knife skills.

Liaison College has taken an extra step towards helping newcomers and exchange students in class. If a student has trouble with English comprehension, they can request to take what’s called a “verbal exam”. Instead of completing a written test, students can sit with their instructors one-on-one and answer the test questions out loud.

Chef Mick Elliott, who teaches at Liaison’s downtown Toronto campus, says these little extra things help students a lot in their training.

“Our goal at the end of the day is that we (the instructors) will give 100 percent,” he says. “If you give 100 percent too, we’ll get you through the program.”

Becoming a successful chef, Elliott says, requires extremely hard work and a lot of hours spent in the kitchen. “You really have to have the passion, the desire to do this, and you really have to appreciate food.”

He adds, “If you see it as a job, it’s always going to be (just a job). What I teach my students is that cooking is not just about the food. It’s about the artist trying to create that perfect palate, that perfect meal. It’s creating a canvas that customers are going to eat with their eyes, and it’s gonna taste good!”

Mooking agrees. For chefs-in-training, he says the most important characteristic to have is a strong work ethic.

“Always do your job beyond expectations and have pride,” he says. “If you are proud of what you create and cook, it shows in the final product. That consistent commitment to quality and perfect execution will take you far in this industry.”

cnm