Thunder Bay, Ont. – A new partnership between Confederation College’s culinary management program and the Regional Food Distribution Association (RFDA) provides a valuable large-volume cooking experience for the students while directly easing food insecurity in the community.
Students in the college’s new food production course will spend the semester preparing, cooking, packaging and freezing almost 800 meals (including 43 turkeys) for distribution by the RFDA.
Richard Gemmill, dean for the school of business, hospitality and media arts, said the initiative is a tremendous opportunity for students to learn something that they don’t necessarily get to learn in college or in the culinary industry.
“It’s already built into the curriculum. The course, called production cooking, is part of their second semester where we’re encouraging students to learn skills about large-volume cooking, and partner with (businesses) in the city that can utilize our students on placements,” Gemmill said.
“When the RFDA came to us, it was an instant synergy. They have a bunch of products that they need to turn into meals. And we have students that need to learn how to do it, so it’s a perfect partnership.”
He added the culinary and hospitality industry is thriving and there are many opportunities for students.
“The traditional restaurant is still very strong and, in Thunder Bay and the northwest, restaurants are opening all the time with opportunities for our students to work there,” he said. “There are also those lesser-known opportunities such as long-term care facilities which are always looking for suitable food service providers and there are tremendous opportunities in our hospitals. Lots of our mining and resource industries have remote camps where students have had opportunities to work producing food. There’s tons of opportunities to work in the food service or hospitality industry and our program prepares them for that.”
When Ken Veneruz, the school’s culinary management co-ordinator transitioned the restaurant cooking program to production cooking, it gave the students the important hands-on experience of industry volume cooking.
“Working with the RFDA just seemed the natural fit,” said Veneruz. “They provide us with the food and we turn it into a product that they can distribute throughout the region.”
The RFDA project began last week where students produced almost 700 portions of roast beef stew.
This week, the RFDA brought the students 42 turkeys which the students de-boned and roasted, and prepared gravy, mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing and roasted vegetables, for upwards of 800 portions.
“This is something new for the students and they’re finding it extremely enjoyable,” he said. “In their future careers, they could work at places like institutional operations, hotels, bigger hotels and restaurants and they (will know) how to do this kind of volume cooking.”
Tanner Harris, the RFDA’s food services manager, said the initiative exposes students to the realization that there are different parts of the industry.
“They’re coming here to focus on working in restaurants, banquet halls and hotels; but really, there’s a whole other part of the food service industry that kind of goes unseen, and that’s feeding the people in our community that live in food insecurity,” said Harris. “The students can see firsthand where this food is going.”
Volker Kromm, executive director of the RFDA says they are providing all the food to the college, which has been donated to their organization.
“This collaborative project touches on a lot of the mandates of the ways we want to go about making sure people don’t go hungry,” Kromm said.
“It addresses the need for food at both the meal program level and also at the food bank-level while giving people the opportunity to experience production cooking. For us, we want to mitigate poverty by giving people employment opportunities and giving economic development and entrepreneurship back into the community. That’s what makes this a perfect fit.”
Sandi Krasowski is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for The Chronicle-Journal.