Amidst the cooking that happens each day, the Food Network plays on a large suspended flat-screen TV in the Windermere Cooking Cafeteria. Windermere student chefs, like celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay on the big screen above them, are engrossed in their work. They'd better be. Each day they're charged with whipping up meals roughly 140 entrees and hundreds of side dishes which clear roughly $1,000 in revenue on an average day.
Creating meals from scratch with local ingredients for hungry (and often picky) customers each day is no easy task. Each day, chef and cooking instructor Shirley Wong works with her students to develop a range of healthy meal options.
Wong says almost everything is made from scratch. In the morning, students prepare the dough for homemade breakfast buns, hamburger buns and stuffed Chinese meat buns. They'll all be part of the increasingly complex and varied menu. Sometimes its brownies with homemade beef broth-based Pho. Other times the class will prepare roasted chicken legs, meatballs or Chinese-style BBQ pork. When the seasons permit it, the students will harvest many of the vegetables planted in the school garden, a small plot in the heart of Windermere Secondary surrounded by three stories of classrooms.
During the harvesting seasons, the garden is jammed with a range of herbs and vegetables including everything from basil, thyme and mint to hearty veggies like leeks, potatoes and zucchini. It's at these times that the school's famous fresh salad bar is particularly appealing.
Wong says for many students, the teaching cafeteria offers them their first opportunity to sample local cuisine. It's a change from the "old days" when everything came off a truck or a freighter shipped from hundreds of kilometers away. Today, the school relies on local producers and farmers from the Fraser Valley wherever possible.
Each year the program trains around eight classes or a total of 160 students. A handful of these students go on to make cooking their fulltime career after graduating. Wong says she has graduates in a variety of Metro Vancouver's most popular restaurants including the Italian Kitchen, Browns Social House, Earls and Milestones. The program is known among Vancouver's top executive chefs as a training ground for the next generation of excellent cooks.
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