Classic culinary training and inspiration with a dash of invaluable cultural education: that’s what Conestoga College culinary program graduate Taylor Martin says she took away from her 14-week term at the Institut Paul Bocuse in France this past year.
“I can take this experience, move forward and pay food the proper respect it deserves. I have a wider perspective now, and I think that means my standards for what I do in the kitchen are even higher,” says Martin.
Institut Paul Bocuse: sharing educational and culinary values
The Cambridge, Ont.,-born Martin was Conestoga’s first exchange student to the prestigious academic institute in Lyon. The College has signed an exclusive agreement with the Institut’s “Worldwide Alliance,” a global education network for the culinary arts and hospitality trades.
Founded in 2004, the Alliance connects institutions that share educational values and the common goal of promoting and developing the professions of culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management. Its 17 member institutions represent the world’s top hospitality management and culinary arts schools: Conestoga is the only Canadian member.
The 14-week program at the Institut included practical lessons in cookery, pastry and bread making techniques, restaurant service, and theory focused on French gastronomic history. Eventually, Conestoga culinary students will be able to study and work at Bocuse on a co-op term.
Higher standards for food and cooking
Martin, 23, attended Cameron Heights Collegiate in Kitchener and currently works part-time in the kitchen at Cambridge Golf Club and as a line cook at Jake’s Grill and Oyster House in Burlington. She, along with her older twin brothers, grew up with parents who are good cooks. “I suppose I was exposed to higher standards for food and cooking growing up.”
Cooking, however, wasn’t her first choice. She started her post-secondary education in chemistry at McGill University before she made an important tack in her career direction. “I did some soul searching, and I kind of realized it was not what I wanted to be doing. I left McGill and took some time off to think, work and save some money to go back to school,” says Martin. With good food at home, the idea of cooking and working in kitchens came to her naturally and organically. “I realized I had been doing stuff in the kitchen helping out my parents since I was a little girl. I had always been interested in it and thought this is something I might want to do.”
So, Martin applied to several culinary programs and chose to go to Conestoga. “I wanted to stay local, and I had heard good things about the program.” Her first professional kitchen experience was as a co-op student where she was placed at Cambridge Golf Club. While she admits an interest in the pastry arts, she says she is also intrigued by molecular gastronomy, perhaps not unexpectedly given her strength in chemistry. “I’m really interested in it. I have a little kit at home, and I play around.”
Cultural and industry perspective
Otherwise, her interests around food are wide ranging. She says that what attracted her to the Bocuse term, in part, was the opportunity to travel and learn about a different part of the world – through the lens of food and cooking. “Especially in the food industry, I think that is so important,” Martin says. “In Canada, we have a mix of cultures from around the world, but I also wanted to see European culture first hand. The approach to food is different.”
She describes Lyon as a big city that doesn’t feel big. “Everything felt close and homey, and it was easy to immerse yourself in the city. For the food culture, at least in the old city, I was surprised to find what a balance there was of traditional Lyonnaise food and across the river multicultural foods as far as you could see.”
Her student residence, where breakfast was served, was a few minutes from the classrooms. “That was dishes like hard-boiled eggs, cheese, ham, croissants, pain au chocolat and fruit salad,” Martin says. Class schedules differed each week, both the theory and practical training. Though she did have some previous comfort in speaking French, she says her language skills improved immensely during the term. “Depending on which instructors you got, they might speak more or less English,” she says. “There was often an odd Franglish going on too.”
Martin says the classes were similar to Conestoga but with different ingredients and techniques for meat, fish and vegetables, as well as learning about dishes from the Medieval era. “We did some of Paul Bocuse’s recipes, too. The cooking in Lyon is different from that in other parts of France,” she adds. One week of the placement was in large part dedicated to wines and vinology, including a field trip to the vineyards of Burgundy. “It was absolutely beautiful.”
Students did service in the restaurant too and took a one-week placement at a restaurant downtown near Place Bellecour, one of Europe’s largest public squares and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “The restaurant was a great experience, especially with learning more of the language,” Martin says.
Learning about the world through food and cooking
As for the cost of living, she describes Lyon as more expensive than Waterloo Region but not as expensive as Vancouver; the cultural value was priceless. “This experience taught me a lot about different cultures with 13 countries represented there. It was a good way to see how people live and how it translates into what they eat through demonstrations of their cooking.”
For now, Martin is working and saving money for her next career step. “I’d like to study for my Red Seal eventually,” she says and admits to an entrepreneurial spirit. “I’d like to own my own place one day, whether that is a restaurant or a different business within the food industry, such as catering or private chef. I want to do something where I cook and create food and dishes for people.”
Martin’s advice to culinary students considering heading to Institut Paul Bocuse? “Go if you know that you are dedicated. If you’re not, it will show in your work and you won’t get the full experience out of it. Go with an open mind,” she stresses. “And sharp knives.”
If you are thinking about culinary as a career option then find out more info about Chef Training at Conestoga College here http://www.conestogac.on.ca/fulltime/culinary-skills-chef-training-co-op