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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Success is sweet for chef apprentice

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun


"If you ever have the urge to toss your clothes and roll naked in the fresh produce at a farmers market, you're either slightly mad, or you have a passion for food and the heart of a chef," says Tony Bevan, popular professor and spirited chef behind the reputable -- and highly coveted -- culinary program at Humber College.

Mandated to help students follow their passion, the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) welcomes another brilliant partnership -- this time with Humber College.
"Without passion, you can't really survive this life choice," says Leandro Baldassarre, a chef apprentice at Splendido restaurant in Toronto.


"The best way to give interested students a specialized experience is to outsource for specific educational paths," says Gary McGuire, co-op coordinator for Father Bressani Catholic High School. "We couldn't hope to provide the culinary education that Humber College offers. With direct involvement of world class chefs and restaurants, Humber is a culinary career opportunity like no other."

The partnership goes further -- Chef Alliance is also fully engaged. "We are a body of executive chefs from high end restaurants and hotels in Toronto, and we want to expose the culinary arts to young people," says Albert Schnell, retired corporate executive chef for the Hilton and president of Chef Alliance. "It's important that our industry get involved, give back to the community and maintain standards of excellence."

Bevan believes that Schnell is exactly the mentor that can accomplish such goals: "Chef Alliance exposes our kids to a tremendous role model -- Albert Schnell is the real deal," Bevan says. "Just to give you a sense of his reputation, the greatest chefs from around the world attended Albert's retirement soiree -- he's a wonderful ambassador of our industry."

One more significant partnership exists within this opportunity. The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) allows students to apprentice in a trade while achieving high school credits. By providing a flexible, closely monitored system that combines professional training within a work environment and theoretical training within the schools, OYAP smoothes the transition between Grade 12 and a solid career path. Sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, OYAP also subsidizes tuition, thereby easing financial hurdles.

Not surprisingly, the collaboration is wildly successful and Leandro Baldassarre is the proof.

"Leandro was recommended for the Humber program by Vince Sicilia -- an insightful guidance counsellor at Father Bressani who has a sixth sense about where students belong," McGuire says.

Says Baldassarre, "Getting into Humber was pretty intense -- besides excelling, you have to prove your passion. Without passion, you really can't survive this life choice."

After rigorous pre-placement training at Humber, Chef Alliance connected Baldassarre with a first class restaurant called Splendido.

"Leandro is a natural chef," says David Lee, executive chef and owner of Splendido. "He works at the vegetable station in charge of starches, vegetables, accompaniments and garnishes. He has huge passion and talent and he's extremely dedicated."

Baldassarre gained skills and hours toward his apprenticeship while he attended Humber once weekly to compliment his practicaltraining. McGuire offered close guidance throughout.

"I've had great support," Baldassarre says. "Mr. McGuire is tremendous -- the entire system, from guidance to teaching to the work placement, is set up to make sure I can achieve the goals I'm meant to achieve."

A recent graduate of Father Bressani C.H.S., Baldassarre has also completed the first level of his apprenticeship at Humber, and won the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Award for exemplar achievement. He is now a fully employed apprentice at Splendido, and his résumé features a network of respected professionals in precisely the field of his choice.

It's a brilliant beginning, created by smart collaboration and earned by Leandro Baldassarre.

"A chef uses science, artistry, fashion and business, all balanced within a fast paced team environment -- it's a challenging mix, but Leandro's response to challenge is 'bring it on'," Bevan says. "The kid is dynamite, he's got what it takes and he will become a truly great chef."

(Aunie Edwards (a.edwards@rogers.com) is a Guelph-based freelance writer.)



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