By Chef Daniel Slat, Director of Admissions at Liaison College Kitchener
Being both a Chef and a Director of Admissions for Liaison College of Culinary Arts in Kitchener gives me a unique perspective into the industry and the teaching and training of those seeking to enter it. I myself was a graduate of Liaison and landed my first job the day after I graduated. I am well aware of what is out there and what it takes to succeed. The success of a chef does not start with their first favourable review or the landing of a position at a reputable restaurant; not even with the first ‘official’ job in the industry. It starts before cooking school even begins.
It never ceases to amaze me who has always wanted to cook: high school, college and university graduates, and people already established in their current careers but looking to change, to retirees not ready to retire. All were different yet all the same for I can tell you they all share three identifiable traits. It is these same traits that any chef wants to see in their kitchen: passion, professionalism, and work ethic.
Passion can be said is our driving force and defined as an uncontrollable urge that come hell or high water, the promise of reward or certain failure: this must happen. And in cooking everything can happen and good cooks need to be able to dig deep to get the job done; failure is not an option.
When I meet with people, this can come across pretty easily in what they say and how they say it, where they see themselves, their future plans. By asking the right questions I am able to determine that they are aware of what a ‘day in the life’ of a cook means. This early on in their career they truthfully don’t and I can spend a good deal of time making them aware, it’s not a pretty picture, I am very blunt and to the point. I have lost people because of this, but I rather this happen in my office than later in class. Yet those with passion; they always figured this, they get it and can’t wait to get started.
Professionalism: Hard to determine this before it even happens, but it does make itself evident. Going to Liaison College is professional training and not just teaching. Cooking is a hands-on endeavor and must be taught hands-on. What happens in our kitchen happens in the kitchen of other chefs. There is no cooking in a bubble here. We echo what the industry is doing.
And with professional training comes the understanding that you are cooking for money, a wage to make a living. This is not cooking for the grandparents; this is knowledge, skills and understanding for one cook to be able to cook for 100 people. The understanding that every slice, dice, and chop will cost or make you money. And time, is not on your side in the kitchen. Understandably, a student is not going to be fast at first and only through experience (focused time) does speed and confidence begins to develop. Hands-on training therefore needs to be consistent and consecutive in its execution; it needs to be done daily, it needs to be true to what is expected out there in the world, but be a safe and nurturing learning experience for the student. Likewise, a chef instructor needs to be available to their students to make this happen. Which is why the average class size for us is 10 to 12.
Worth Ethic: This can easily be bunched in with professionalism but it has distinctions. You could be the best chef in the world, but if you’re always late or don’t show up; I ask ‘what is the point?’ I need students to be here and to be on time and likewise present when they’re here; meaning not on the phone but here and involved. Our programs are accelerated and done in a fraction of the time of other culinary diploma programs yet deliver more hands-on training.
I know students are looking for a good cooking school; well this school is looking for good students. I meet everyone. I want students who get that and want that. They should have a well-developed sense of urgency, the need to get things done. Liaison graduates enjoy a 90% job placement rate after graduation. And those references are developed by the work ethic a student’s exhibits at Liaison. I do not measure our success by the number of diplomas we hand out, but by the phone calls from employers who want “three more clones of the last graduate we sent.”
It is said that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” When people contact me about information about programs, fees, start dates, I always suggest that they come in to meet me. With all that we do, there is no way a brochure, website, email or a phone call can accomplish what a single visit can. A visit is for information only, not to enroll. The only thing that I promise anyone is that by the time we are done; they will know everything they need to know about our school and how it works, and particularly, they will know if this is right school for them.