Students at Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus are getting a taste of working in a commercial kitchen, with an emphasis on fresh, farm-to-table ingredients.
Not only is Sullivan’s culinary teacher, Chef Nimmi Erasmus, changing the structure of the school’s cafeteria and foods classes, she has been invited to participate in B.C.’s first Farm to School conference May 18-19. The conference gathers people from the food service and farming industries, among others, who work to bring local and sustainable healthy food options to students in school settings.
Erasmus said Sullivan is one of the only high schools in B.C. to be invited and she will represent Salmon Arm as well as the hard work of high school culinary programs in general. She will be attending along with chefs and culinary and farm professionals, all sharing what their respective spaces are doing to foster farm-to-school initiatives, bringing locally grown and sustainable foods into schools.
“We’re being recognized for the food that is coming out of this cafeteria because it’s all pretty much farm-fresh, and we do close to zero-waste” said Erasmus. “So you’ll see those kinds of products being used. We try to support as many farms as we can, and support as local as we can.”
The conference is being held to educate and share ideas, said Erasmus, so she is honoured to be recognized along with local farm-to-school and food action representatives who helped get the program noticed.
Erasmus is a 2003 Sullivan grad and said when she took the culinary program then, the training and food structure was very different.
One of the first things she did upon taking over the program was remove the kitchen deep fryer. If anything needs to be fried, it is done in a pot of oil on the stove in better view of passersby, said Erasmus, emphasizing an open-concept kitchen. Fries are baked and everything is made from scratch, she confirmed, adding the students rarely use recipes and simply follow her instruction, encouraged to make sauces, soups and almost everything else as they go.
The culinary arts class is an elective, but Erasmus said she has restructured it so it prepares students to go into culinary careers if they choose to. Six or seven students went to culinary school after graduation last year, she estimated, stating proudly that it speaks volumes for the program.
“It’s sort of my personal mission for them to learn and attain life skills. These are all transferable skills, everything they learn in here.”
She added the culinary craft is a mix of school subjects.
“You need math, you need science, but you need creativity, you need art.”
The students run the show in Erasmus’ class. They begin with a few weeks of training, focusing on safety and knife skills, then handle the different kitchen stations, taking turns being sous chef and kitchen leader and delegating tasks to each other. After three weeks running each station, when Erasmus is confident they’ve mastered those skills, they move on.
Erasmus said it’s an escape for a lot of students from more academic courses, and often students on a break between classes will drop in to help or hang out and can be “a god-send” when the lunch service gets busy.
That service, beginning with popular breakfast buns and finishing when the kitchen sells out of it’s lunch feature, can net the cafeteria nearly $700 a day, said Erasmus. On Wednesday, May 10, the cafe opened its doors at 11:45 a.m. and sold out of Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches and paninis by 12:15 p.m.
Erasmus said she wants to teach her students more than just testable content, designing the program around values and hard work on top of specific skills.
“Cooking is a lifestyle,” she said. “I wanted my students to know what the essence is, from receiving the ingredient to cooking it, to plating and serving it. It’s all an act of love.”