Chorney-Booth: Teatro welcomes teens to learn in some of the city’s best kitchens | #socialmedia | #children | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

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One of the advantages of studying a trade while still in high school is that if a student can connect with a good program, they can figure out firsthand if the occupation is a good fit. For 30 years, The Educational Partnership Foundation (TEPF) has helped Calgary teenagers get a handle on skilled trades like plumbing or ironworking with off-campus training programs. But kids interested in a culinary career were mostly left to take a part-time job in a restaurant or wait patiently until they could start a culinary program at a post-secondary institution like SAIT to get real hands-on industry experience.

For Calgary high school students with big culinary dreams, things just changed in a big way. After running into an old friend who happened to be the chair of TEPF’s board a few years ago, Matthew Batey, the corporate executive chef at Teatro Group realized that if no one else was running a trades-based high school program for budding young chefs, that he might be the guy for the job.

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“When most people hear the word ‘trades’ they think of mechanics or welders,” Batey says. “But as we know, culinary cooking and pastry arts are registered trades with the province of Alberta and recognized throughout Canada. When I saw that TEPF didn’t offer a culinary program, I saw an opportunity to do one with them myself.”

TEPF helped Batey with funding and setting up the program. Things were pushed back a year by the pandemic, but earlier this spring, after a rigorous application process, eight students were chosen to participate in a six-week program that saw them each rotating through five Teatro Group restaurants, working about 22 hours in each kitchen. Through intensive individualized instruction with each restaurant’s chef (and Batey himself), the students learned baking and pastry at Alforno, batch cooking at E.A.T., a week of butchery and a week of garde manger (a.k.a. the “cold side” of the kitchen) at Teatro, breakfast cookery at Vendome, and the “hot side” of the kitchen at Cucina. It was a rigorous regime and one that could never be replicated in a high school teaching kitchen.

High school culinary students who worked with executive chef Matthew Batey. Courtesy Teatro Group
High school culinary students who worked with executive chef Matthew Batey. Courtesy Teatro Group jpg

The program wrapped up this week with a group dinner prepared at Teatro, with food being delivered to guests who could watch an accompanying presentation via Zoom. The students earn course credits for their participation, with added opportunities to apprentice with the Teatro Group and even be hired on as eventual employees. Not too shabby for a group of kids just embarking on their career paths.

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As an employer, parent, certified journeyperson, and a former chef apprentice himself, Batey is incredibly excited about his involvement in the program. Bringing kids into one of the most esteemed restaurant groups in the city not only teaches the students that there’s value in aiming high, but that professional cooking also requires tremendous discipline, dedication, and mastering raw skills — just like any other trade.

“We made sure we brought on kids who have the greatest likelihood of working in this trade. This industry needs new blood,” Batey says. “Part of this process is also to educate the kids around the realistic nature of being a culinarian versus the romantic idealized social media version of restaurants. We’re not serving them if we aren’t realistic about what this business is like.”

The program was able to carry on despite the pandemic (the kitchens focused on takeout for the final few weeks) and like any other kitchen staff, the students were able to work in-person, taking all of the necessary safety precautions, of course. Batey says that the program will return next year, hopefully with a backdrop of full-service indoor dining.

In other news, Real Treat, a little Cochrane-based gourmet cookie company made a splash at the 2021 sofi Awards. The sofis were handed out by the Specialty Food Association in New York earlier this month and Real Treat took home the top award in the competitive cookie category with its lemon sable with herbs de Provence cookies. It’s the first Canadian product to win an award in this category (which dates back to 1972) and also the first organic cookie to win.

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If you’ve stumbled upon Real Treat you’ll know that the win is much deserved — these cookies are small but packed with intensely delicious flavour. The lemon sables have been a hit in California wine country, with various Napa Valley wineries serving them at their tastings. Here at home, Real Treat’s Top Shelf gourmet cookies (in flavours like the lemon sable as well as salted caramel with fennel and dark chocolate chunk with smoked pecans) and a line of less fancy “pantry” cookies (look for brown sugar shortbread and oatmeal raisin) are available at shops like Blush Lane, Community Natural Foods, various Safeway and Sobeys locations, and through Spud.ca. For more information, visit realtreat.ca.

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at elizabooth@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.

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