BY MATT LINSEMAN
Dinner was a piece of cake for second-year Conestoga College culinary students at the Rising Stars event at the Kitchener Market on March 17.
Throughout March and April, aspiring chefs from the college are hosting themed pop-up dinners at the Kitchener Market. This is a chance for culinary students to showcase exciting menus in a variety of themes like Asian street food, southern BBQ, East Coast seafood and more.
Shalini Govindarajan, a second-year culinary student, was the head chef for the evening and ran a successful dinner service.
“Everything went smoothly,” said Govindarajan. “I think this was fancier for my first time, but I think I did pretty good.”
She said the amount of prep the dinner needs ahead of time is a lot more than most people realize. Tasks include designing the menu, creating the product list and order sheet, appointing tasks to team members, budgeting food costs and finding and creating recipes.
The evening offered a delicious gastropub theme to approximately 30 people. Guests got to enjoy an appetizer, soup, entree and a decadent dessert.
Terry Salmond, an instructor in the culinary program at Conestoga, explained what Rising Stars is about.
“This is a big part of the new generation of the culinary program and what I think it’s evolving to be,” said Salmond. “It’s a very practical program and the ability for the students to learn how to run offsite catering is paramount.”
He said to have skills like running catering, managing events offsite and even just holding functions in strange places leads to adaptability, an essential skill needed to get a job in the hospitality/culinary market. Rising Stars is a chance for students to test their culinary abilities in the real world and develop these skills.
“Every student in the kitchen is eager to learn and wants to bring their own talents to the table and see them come to life,” said Salmond. “That’s the best part about being in the kitchen. Some people go to work every day for five, 10 years and maybe once or twice throughout their careers they really get to see the culmination of all of their work. We get to see our work in a matter of moments and the looks on people’s faces when the dish comes out of the kitchen. We get that recognition and instant gratification right away.”
Matt Rooney, an event management program instructor, oversaw the front end of the evening’s dinner service.
“We have students who are first-year tourism and hotel management students,” said Rooney. “They manage the floor, like the serving and making sure guests are comfortable.”
He said they spent the first part of January and February co-ordinating everything and the Rising Stars event accounted for a large portion of the students’ practical work. Each student had to help out with three dinners as part of their program.
Jennifer Fletcher, manager administration for Conestoga’s Centre of Entrepreneurship, has been at the back end dealing with the planning and logistics.
“We have a collaboration between the Kitchener Market, the culinary school and the Centre for Entrepreneurship,” said Fletcher. “Rising Stars is a sort of entrepreneurial venture where students do the legwork by sourcing out the venue, maintaining a budget, organizing the food and basically running their own culinary or event management business. We help them and give them an idea of what it’s like.”
She said there can be a big difference between the theory and practical experience in terms of the culinary industry. In your mind, you think it goes well, but what you think is going to happen and what actually happens are two totally different things and this gives the students the real life experience to see what they’re studying in action.
“Let’s say you don’t get your proper inventory,” said Fletcher. “Or you have a problem with your purchases or there’s a problem with the produce. Students have to think on their feet and deal with these things right away. They’re able to go through the motions where if it’s just out of a book in a classroom in everyone’s mind everything goes perfectly. This is real life, real world experience which is priceless.”
The Rising Stars Dinner Series runs until April 14. Tickets are $30 per person and reservations are required. If you’d like to take part, visit www.conestogacommunity.ca/RisingStars2016.