For a culinary arts student who has enjoyed the sweet smell of success, becoming a chef could really put him on the map.
"I'd like to work in other parts of the country and even Europe," says Mike McKay, 17, a Grade 12 student at the Career Academy, located at Oshawa Central Collegiate Institute in Oshawa.
Chef apprentice Mike McKay is getting practical training at The Shrimp Cocktail in Oshawa.
"In this career, the more experience, the better. Different restaurants have different ways of doing things, and that helps you become more skilled," McKay says. "It also gives you a chance to experience different cultures. Working in British Columbia or Alberta would be a lot of fun."
McKay enjoys testing his skills. He was a member of a team that earned a silver medal for two consecutive years at George Brown College's annual Ready, Set, Cook and Win competition. He also collected a silver medal at the Durham Skills Challenge.
After taking his first culinary arts class in Grade 9, McKay was hooked. He registered with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) last year, which allows him to earn credits toward his diploma while the hours he works are put toward journeyperson certification.
McKay has been working at The Shrimp Cocktail in Oshawa for the past year and a half and expects to have completed 2,000 hours by the end of the summer. He must work another 4,000 hours and complete another level of training before he can write his journeyperson exam.
His tasks at The Shrimp Cocktail include preparing salad dressings and desserts.
"A lot of creativity goes into presentation, and our apprentices are involved in that," says head chef Chad Thomas-Chatterpaul. "We encourage apprentices to broaden their culinary horizon so they don't feel stagnant."
Thomas-Chatterpaul has blended his Trinidadian background with European and North American influences to create a unique style.
"Apprentices often expect to begin cooking right away, but they chop and cut for hours a day," says owner Chris Neshevich. "They learn the basics, and then the chef will teach them techniques."
The Career Academy's culinary arts apprenticeship program is offered in partnership with Sir Sanford Fleming College in Peterborough. That gives McKay a chance to hone the skills he learned at his home school, where culinary arts students prepare food for the school's cafeteria, bakery and sit-down dining room for staff.
"My goal is to expose kids to a variety of fresh foods," says Kevin Thompson, head of the culinary arts program. "Most kids think food comes out of a box...Here, we even offer fresh-cut fries, so they're peeling 200 to 300 pounds of potatoes a day."
Thomson encourages students interested in becoming chefs to enter competitions and to work in a variety of restaurants.
"If Mike worked through the country and went to Europe, he would come back at age 25 as a highly-qualified chef," Thompson says. "In this industry, the opportunities are endless. If you work with a hotel chain, even movement from one part of the country to the other can be easy."
(Linda White is a freelance writer based in
Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at
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