Aspiring chefs learn the trade in Winnipeg's Exchange area

As part of our weeklong series Urban Myths: The Exchange, the CBC's Margaux Watt visits culinary arts students at Red River College's Paterson Global Foods Institute, located inside the century-old Union Bank tower in Winnipeg's Exchange District.

As part of our weeklong series Urban Myths: The Exchange on CBC Radio One, the CBC's Margaux Watt visits the culinary arts school at Red River College's Paterson Global Foods Institute, located inside the century-old Union Bank tower in Winnipeg's Exchange District.

Tim Halkett came to Winnipeg from the small, remote community of Brochet in northern Manitoba about a year ago.

The 22-year-old says it's the first time he has ever lived in a big city and it can be nerve-wracking at times, but he is glad he took the plunge.

Halkett wanted to get away from the isolation of his reserve, go to school and become a chef.

Tim Halkett of Brochet, Man., is a culinary arts student at Red River College in Winnipeg's Exchange District. He will soon be working in a real kitchen in a local restaurant, something he never thought he would be doing so quickly. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

"Well, I've been working in a kitchen since I was 14," he explained.

"I was a dishwasher for three years and then I found out that I loved cooking.  So that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So that's why I'm here."

Halkett is discovering a passion for cooking at Red River College's Paterson Global Foods Institute, in an old bank building in Winnipeg's Exchange District.

He's among 300 students currently enrolled in the college's new School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts.

Halkett has been in the program for a year, and next up he'll be working in a real kitchen in a local restaurant — something he never thought he would be doing in Winnipeg, especially this quickly.

He can't wait for the experience, a big change from when he first told his family he wanted to become a chef.

"I would always leave the house," he said. "I was shy about it. I didn't really cook for them.

"After going through this course, I'm actually cooking for them and making stuff that I never thought I would be making."

Halkett, along with the other students, are learning how to make everything from soups and sauces to breads and pies.

Century-old bank a mixed-use building

It's the last place you'd expect to find delicate pastries: in a baking lab inside an old bank.

The Union Bank Tower opened in 1904. When the bankers left in 1992, the building was abandoned and sat vacant for more than a decade.

Today it is a shining example of a mixed-use building, with college students now living here and attending classes.

There are also retail components, a public food court, the Culinary Exchange and the upscale Jane's Restaurant, both featuring food prepared by the students. 

More than a century later, instead of counting money and making financial deals, people in the building were counting crab legs and making sushi as part of a recent fish and crustacean week at the cooking school.

"This is basic food prep. We're trying to give them a broad understanding of kitchen, stocks and soups and different influence of world cuisines," said chef instructor Terry Gereta.

Students in this program are from all over the world, including China and Africa, and that has an influence on the classroom.

"The range of understanding of different foods is bigger than we've ever had here," Gereta said. "I'm learning as I go as well."

The students are not only learning techniques, but also how to come together as a team as you would in a real restaurant.

For Halkett, the dream is to one day have his own restaurant.

"After I finish this I want to follow my career," he said.

"I want to open up my own restaurant. I want to do all this stuff with my new experience. This is unbelievable for me."

More Winnipeggers will soon be able to refine their cooking skills in the classroom as well. This fall, the Paterson Global Foods Institute will be launching a culinary tour of the world, offering cooking classes for the public.


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