September 26, 2020

BY MARK LORENTZ Bloom24

Everyone has secrets, including Conestoga.

Not too long ago, the culinary program at the college was one of those secrets. It was down to only 28 students, but now it is quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing trade programs offered in Waterloo Region. Philippe Saraiva, co-ordinator, is proud of how far the school has grown since he has taken over.

“We score highly every year in multiple national competitions; people are starting to notice and say, who are those little guys from Conestoga,” Saraiva said.

With a 40-guest maximum for any given service, Bloom, Conestoga College’s student-run restaurant, gives off a high-class feel with its quality food. It manages to create an evening setting, since it doesn’t have any windows because it is located right in the middle of the Waterloo campus.

First-year students in the hospitality programs provide the product and service at Bloom, which gives them real world experience while still in a classroom setting.

“What makes us different from other colleges is that we have a real restaurant, with real people paying with real money to get a product that they paid for. We don’t do pretend, we do real life,” Saraiva said.

Bloom opens for business this school year for the first time on Oct. 8. First-year culinary student Nada Nasser has had experience working for catering companies, but said Bloom is entirely different. “I’m very excited, it will be a great experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.”

Bloom’s menu has a French influence and was created by head chef and teacher Paul Torrance. The menu was designed to show first-year students the wide variety of skill and technique that goes into creating a dish. A vast majority of first-year culinary students this semester have very little experience in a live kitchen which Torrance believes is more of an asset than a hindrance.

“It’s easier to work with a clean slate, they’re willing to listen. Students who have worked in a kitchen sometimes bring in bad habits and struggle when learning techniques properly,” he said.

When asked about what students struggle with the most when entering a kitchen for the first time, Torrance said that pan work in the sauté section of the kitchen usually brings out the most frustration. “The high heat, cooking with the fat, food can burn rather quickly, especially if you have multiple pans on the go,” he said.

Matt Worden, the restaurant operations instructor at Conestoga and award-winning sommelier, came up with the tag line for Bloom, which is “educate, eat, experience,” something that Worden said sums up Bloom perfectly.

“Of course, ideally we want to have perfect service every time we go live,” Worden said.  “However, I love mistakes. Mistakes help the students learn. We can go back after and see what went wrong and pick through it, to help fix the problem next time.”

The price for a three-course meal at Bloom, which is of the same standard and quality that would run close to $50 a plate at a Charcoal group restaurant, is $14 a plate, with wine and alcohol options.

Worden said the reason the price is so low, is the college gets it main source of income from tuition and student fees. The money made by the restaurant itself pays off the basic operating costs.

However, he said, “Marketing is a tough one. We’re trying to get the word out there, but the school sees the people who come in here to eat as secondary customers, our income really comes from the students.”

The same menu items are available for both lunch and dinner; lunch service begins at 11:45 a.m. from Tuesday through Friday, with dinner service starting at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays only.

Once the kitchen goes live for the first time, nerves and anticipation will finally subside, something that first-year student Roxanne Minaker is looking forward to.

“I’m definitely nervous,” she said, but added the more she is in the kitchen practising, the more her nervousness subsides.

Bloom is open for nine weeks during the first semester, with a new set menu each of those weeks. For more information, visit www.bloomatconestoga.ca