Nfld. & Labrador

Students get schooled at Mallard Cottage kitchen

This week, 20 students from Holy Heart of Mary high school traded cracking the books for cracking eggs at Mallard Cottage.

Holy Heart high school launching culinary certificate program in September

Today's lesson: Fishcake Forming 101. Students from Holy Heart high school in St. John's roll up their sleeves and get to work in the Mallard Cottage kitchen. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Chef Todd Perrin is used to training new employees at his restaurant, but most new hires are coming from culinary school — not high school.

This week, 20 students from Holy Heart of Mary high school in St. John's traded cracking the books for cracking eggs. They marched into the kitchen at Mallard Cottage, where Perrin handed them gloves and aprons and put them straight to work.

"Well, I make Kraft Dinner but that's about it," Cian Waterhouse said. "I don't make much else."

Chef-owner Todd Perrin welcomes students from Holy Heart high school to his restaurant, Mallard Cottage. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Some students had cooked at home before, but others like Waterhouse didn't have much seasoning.

The field trip was a test run for a program Holy Heart is launching in September. It's a culinary certificate program, and it's shaping up to be one of the hottest courses on the school's menu.

"We had a limitation of 20 just for the kickoff, but we had a pre-meeting the other day and we had almost 80 students," said Sheldon Barry, principal at Holy Heart.

Holy Heart principal Sheldon Barry is anticipating a lot of interest in the school's new culinary certificate program. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"We're trying to provide enrichment for all students. Not everybody's into athletics, not everybody's into theatre and music. So this is just another skill-set," he said.

"We can tell by the demographics of the students that this is a group we haven't hit yet."

The students warmed up by shaping fish cakes, cracking eggs, and slicing quiche. Simple jobs for experienced chefs, but the students quickly discovered that cooking is harder than it looks.

Even whisking is harder than it looks. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Perrin circled the kitchen, inspecting a tray of finished fish cakes.

"So here's the one I made," he said, pointing to a perfectly formed cake in the corner of the pan. The students had been trying to replicate it, with varying degrees of success.

"We've got a few outliers here," Perrin said with a smile, before tossing some ragged cakes back in the bowl.

Chef Todd Perrin inspecting fish cakes the students have been working on. "We've got a few outliers here," he said. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Giving back to the industry

While more hands usually make for light work, a restaurant kitchen is a busy and demanding place. Inexperienced staff can slow things down.

Perrin says he's happy to give young people a start in the business, even if he has to cook with one hand and teach with the other.

"It definitely creates work, but it's part of our responsibility to give back to our industry," Perrin said

"And ultimately, we're trying to create a workforce that we'll be able to take advantage of. I think, selfishly, we'd prefer to have our hands on these kids when they're new, before they get out and get all kinds of other habits or bad habits or whatever."

For the students, some kitchen know-how could be valuable in more ways than one.

Students Rhianna White and Sara Moores are looking forward to sharpening their kitchen skills. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"It's pretty worldwide, restaurants you can find everywhere," said Cassi Pippy. "So it's a good skill to have because if you end up travelling, you can get a job in a restaurant."

For Sara Moores, it's less about work and more about life at home.

"My mom and my uncle both really enjoy cooking, and I can't always help out a lot. So I wanted to learn how to do some different things."

For Rhianna White, who is already interested in a career in cooking, what she really has a taste for is learning outside the classroom.

"Being able to do it hands-on is so much better than sitting down with a pen and piece of paper. I think it was more fun to be in here whisking eggs, than writing down paragraph after paragraph."

Holy Heart's culinary certificate program will put students to work in restaurant kitchens around St. John's. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

About the Author

Zach Goudie is a journalist and video producer with CBC in St. John's, NL.

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