A plateful of grateful

Originally posted: January 08, 2021

Food = gratitude. Though not the official slogan for a partnership between MITT’s Culinary Arts and Design program and St. Boniface Hospital, the phrase captures the essence of their collaboration that kicks off today; one that will see MITT students prepare and deliver 2,800 meals to hospital staff during the next seven weeks.

The idea hatched during a fall 2020 conversation between culinary faculty members: instructors, Chef Perry Favoni and Chef Curtis Bayne, and production chef, Chef Stephen Strecker. Realizing that COVID-19 restrictions would put their students’ four-week work practicums on the back burner, the trio set about devising an alternative, one that provided real-world experience for their classes, while also giving back to health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Strecker pitched the idea to a nursing friend at St. Boniface, and from there it found its way to hospital’s charitable arm: the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation.

“We are so grateful to the Culinary Arts and Design program and their students for thinking of the frontline staff at St. Boniface Hospital – many thanks! This is just another reminder to our staff that they do not stand alone in this fight,” says Karen Fowler Interim President and CEO, St. Boniface Hospital Foundation.

Today, students are running the production and demo kitchens at MITT, filling the spectrum of roles—from sous chef to dishwasher—they would experience during a practicum in a commercial kitchen. Faculty have deliberately taken a step back to help students embrace the level of responsibility they will need to master as professionals, with Strecker providing daily oversight and guidance on everything from meal preparation to inventory counts and time management.

“This is about letting our students take control and become self-sufficient in the kitchen,” says Strecker. “It’s great to see faculty support this level of hands-on learning and autonomy. We all know from our own kitchen experiences how invaluable that is to becoming competent, confident culinary professionals.”

Four hundred meals will be prepared each week, including a 50 per cent complement of options for food allergies and restrictions, and delivered to the hospital on Fridays in two batches of 200 (around noon and in the evening) to coincide with shift changes. St. Boniface Hospital is coordinating distribution to ensure staff in a variety of departments enjoy the full-course fare. On today’s menu? Roast beet and vegetable salad, with house made lemon ricotta, pickled deviled eggs, vegetarian rice wraps, and fruit fritters.

“For all the challenges COVID-19 has presented, it has also inspired new levels of creativity and community spirit,” says Ray Karasevich, MITT President and CEO. “It’s great to see our culinary students gain vital experience in the kitchen while giving back to the frontline workers who are helping Manitoba get through the pandemic. I commend each of them, and our faculty, for this great initiative and I thank St. Boniface Hospital for helping make this partnership happen.”

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