written by Scott Roberts
I volunteered in the program in Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan, to get my volunteer hours before I applied to the UBC Chef Education and worked with Alex Varga. Alex is part of the reason I got into the cooking industry, his encouragement along the way was the main reason I followed the path of teaching. It is very interesting to interview someone who shares the same mentor as you. When Chef Varga retired, I spoke with him, and he mentioned a former student who was interested in the job, Nimmi Erasmus.
Nimmi Erasmus is now the teaching Chef at Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan. After she got the job, I looked into her work and was very impressed with the number of pictures and write-ups done about her. It's like a food blog of all the neat stuff being done in the program. Later I found out she takes all the pictures of food herself. When I was at a conference on Salt Spring I got to talk with Nimmi and reflect about Chef Varga and how his mentorship helped and pushed us both.
Q: What helped you get into cooking?
I had a passion to cook and coming from a rich Indian culture where food and family are the core of the home, I consider myself blessed to have grown up with grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and my mum who brought out my passion to cook. I attended a renowned international IB school in the foothills of the Himalayas called Woodstock International till Grade 9 before immigrating to Canada. I had made up my mind when I was 8 years old that I wanted to become a Chef. After immigrating with my family from India to Canada, I finished middle school in Salmon arm, then attended SAS Secondary where I completed the culinary program for grades 11 & 12. I was highly competitive so I got involved in chef's competitions and whatever I could get my hands on. I graduated from SAS and then attended S. A. I. T. where I earned my degree in hospitality management and a professional cooking diploma. I then furthered my skills and apprenticeship to attain my Red Seal. I commenced my apprenticeship at the Fairmont Banff Springs and then finished it in Banff and Calgary at local restaurants. I had my Red Seal and journeyman by the time I was 21 years of age and through experience and good mentors worked mainly with the hotel chains. Chef Alex Varga along with some other profs pushed me to teach and over time I had worked my way up to being an Exec sous chef for a hotel chain in Calgary. I also worked in the United Kingdom where I helped open a restaurant for someone else. I helped launch two concepts in Calgary as well and was a part of the management team. This was all prior to teaching. It was when I was in the industry.
Q: So, you’re on the letter of permission, while you work on your teaching degree?
If teaching is something you wish to do and you wish to raise the bar for the next generation, then you should go down this path. In BC, the Ministry of Education requires you to have an Education Degree, along with your Seal and teaching experience. Because I have a young family at home, I could not return to the industry, so I started teaching at Pacific Academy in Surrey, after returning with my young daughter from the UK. It was there where that my interest to teach developed. I come from a family of educators, so this was coming I suppose. I am now fifteen credits away from a Bachelor of Education. After further developing the program at Pacific Academy, I was hired by SD. 83 to take over my mentor's program which truly has been such an honor. I redesigned the program making it farm-to-table and have developed my own curriculum using some guidelines to change the concept of Culinary Arts here at SAS Sullivan. My advice really is to push yourself to educate yourself no matter what you choose to do. At the end of the day, this is all for the next generation and skills must be attained regardless. I am all for culinary arts and further developing programs like this. Teaching kitchens are a neat place as hands-on learning is taught in our respective spaces. Students do not just learn how to cook but attain life skills that are transferable. You really are inspiring the next generation so why not be educated well to deliver.
Q: What is your favorite dish to make with your students?
Anything fresh catches my attention. Butter chicken, which is not even classically Indian is a big selling item and we make it the authentic way so I would say I like that. Anything with fresh fish is always tasty. Our Salmon Rice Bowls are amazing too. All food is good if it is made right. If the kids learn, they gain inspiration and are willing to put in the effort to create good, healthy, fresh food. everything is a favorite. We do this neat Mango Mousse too and of course from start to finish it is created in-house, so that is one of my favorites as it is garnished with fresh Indian mangoes brought up from the coast, especially during warmer months. We use local farms for our produce. Our fish, Beef, and certain seasonal produce are all local. Because we get it in smaller quantities, we sell out. So, our deliveries come twice a week and twice a month Sysco delivers the necessary big items. We are blessed to be in the Shuswap because we are surrounded by farms. All our microgreens are grown in-house when we can we use items like watermelon radish, rainbow carrots, beans, Aubergine, and peaches from the Okanagan Valley. Our sausages and certain bread especially are custom-made for us using a recipe that I provided to the butcher, who happens to be a friend. Our breads are from a specialty bakery in North Vancouver and the rest of the breads are made in-house by our kids. I mean you just cannot beat making everything from scratch. That to me, is personally my favorite food, when it is made fresh, and that love is brought to the table so everyone can indulge.
Q: Have you achieved your goals at SAS?
What I wanted to do I felt like I had done at SAS Sullivan. My principal and administration here supported me in my vision. I wanted to bring global cuisine concepts and heighten the elements of Culinary Arts within the program and I feel, that is exactly what we did. Our lovely community has enjoyed the food. We have made a profit while creating high-quality food. We have made money for the program, earned recognition within the province, and attended conferences to speak about the program and now I need to return home to Surrey where my husband and son are. I have to take care of my family as well, because for the last 3 years we have been apart. Our home is there so I need to wrap it up and come home if a teaching position opens, which I sincerely hope up this year. My plan is to return home to my family and teach in a teaching kitchen and elevate the program to the best of my capabilities. I am happy to teach food and elevate a program like that too but ideally, a teaching kitchen is where I wish to be. Once I complete my bachelor of Ed, I will pursue my master's in education too!
Stories and Pictures
Please see the links to stores and pictures highlighting this program and Chef.
written by Brian Smith
Daniel Lesnes, BCCASA honorary lifetime member and the long-time Chef Instructor of Garibaldi Secondary School, retired in June 2019 after 3 decades in the position. Kind, soft-spoken, and very humble. Daniel has been a mentor and role model to thousands of students as well as to many colleagues and peers.
Daniel’s culinary path began in the small village of Len in the north of France, where he was born, the youngest of five children. His father and grandfather were master butchers, and his father also owned a small catering company.
With just a bag on his back, Daniel left France and disembarked in Montreal in September 1982. He started his Canadian journey at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. In 1986, he made his way to the Hotel Vancouver coinciding with the start of Expo 86. He next decided that he wanted to start teaching. First, private lessons for adults. Daniel then responded to a small advertisement for a position at Garibaldi Secondary. “I didn’t know where Maple Ridge was. I had to rent a car to come for the job interview” This would be the start of a 29-year career. A steep learning curve for a man that had never stepped foot in a Canadian high school. While teaching, Daniel worked diligently on his Bachelor of Education degree, and graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2002.
Daniel’s students have participated in the gingerbread competition, the Harvest Festival, and the SD#42 Chowder Competition, for which he was the founder. When you ask him what he is most proud of, he will state that it was starting bi-yearly culinary tours. Since 2006, Daniel has led multiple trips and tours to New York City, twice to France, and once to Spain and Italy.
Daniel was the Host Chef for Agriculture in the Classroom/UBC Summer Institute for many years and was awarded AITC’s Teacher of the Year for all his hard work and dedication. Daniel was a key player in BCCASA’s foundation in 1997. He served as its 1st second vice-president, producing the Bouquet Garni and creating and maintaining the website.
Daniel has recently returned to France sailing aboard the Queen Mary 2 and is currently building a house in Angers. He spends time volunteering at the Angers Anglophone Library, teaching people to speak French as well as teaching locals to speak English. During the past year he has traveled to South-East Asia and cruised on a sailboat in the Caribbean.
Safe travels Daniel, you deserve It.
By Gerry Brach, Brooks Secondary School Counsellor
No Flash in the Pan - A Teacher Profile of Mike Austin
Mike Austin’s long cooking career is coming to an end on July 1, as he officially retires from Brooks. As he looks back on his 28-year teaching career, and on the cooking he has done on private yachts, he feels fortunate to have met so many interesting people along the way.
Mike first became interested in cooking when he was a student at North Delta Senior Secondary School, in the late 1970’s. He enrolled in the culinary arts program in Grade 11 + 12 but wasn’t sure he wanted to cook as a career. After graduating from high school, he worked for B.C. Hydro for a year, first emptying bus fare boxes on a grave-yard shift and later sorting and delivering mail. Realizing he needed more skills training; he signed up for a meat-cutting course at Pacific Vocational Institute (BCIT). As there was a two year wait list for the meat cutting course, he ended up completing a Level 1 Cooks Training Course instead.
After finishing his cooks training, he travelled to Australia and New Zealand for a fifteen-month working holiday. Missing Canada, he returned to a job cooking at a restaurant on Granville Island and earning his Red Seal Certification. From there he went looking for more adventure and ended up finding a job as a cook on a private yacht. Over the next few years Mike continued cooking on private yachts including Western Broadcasting (Frank Griffiths), Belkins Paper and Arrow Transportation. During this time, he worked long hours cooking for corporate clients while cruising the BC coast from Vancouver to Florida via the Panama Canal. He also enjoyed sport fishing and guiding when not cooking on the yachts. Other perks were getting to meet the Vancouver Canucks on Frank Griffith’s yacht and getting free tickets to Canuck games. “I met a lot of interesting people, including politicians, world leaders, and Holly wood types like Sydney Poitier and Merv Griffin.”
Although Mike liked his job, he realized that he needed to find something that provided a more normal life for his family, as he was away for months at a time. After doing some research he ended up completing a Provincial Instructors Program from Vancouver Community College in 1992 and then taught for two years at Johnson Heights Secondary School in Surrey. He taught another year on the Gulf Islands before taking a job at Brooks Secondary in 1996. Along the way Mike worked hard to obtain his Bachelor of Education degree at the secondary level by attending five summer school sessions at U.B.C.
Highlights of his twenty-five years of teaching at Brooks include: catering for 1300 people for one week at the B.C. Festival of Arts, setting up food service for a 500 -person camp at a Run of the River Project at Toba Inlet, hosting the B.C. Chef Education Conference in 2015, and taking many students over the years to B.C. Skills Competitions where he judged four times at the Provincial level and once at the National level. Mike has also enjoyed sponsoring the Brooks golf team since 2000. Mike is not sure what the future holds once he retires, but he does know that he will be spending a lot of time outdoors, fishing, golfing, hiking, kayaking, and riding his ATV. He just purchased an RV, so he is planning on taking a few trips with his wife Clara who recently also retired.
When it comes to cooking, Mike has proven over the long haul, that he is “No Flash in the Pan.” Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement, Mike!