June 17, 2024


Travel Adventure

Food school in high school builds confidence in the kitchen

3 min read

With a passion to advocate for the empowerment of youth affected by the current food climate, chef Christopher Jess works to help his students build their confidence in the kitchen

Students are busy sharpening their culinary skills at Centre Wellington District High School.

With a passion to advocate for the empowerment of youth effected by the current food climate, chef Christopher Jess works to help his students build their confidence in the kitchen.

“I think when you can attach skills and build confidence, you can hopefully create healthier and less expensive decisions,” Jess said.

Since 2008, the high school culinary arts instructor has led the food school at CWDHS.

The food school offers a series of integrated courses in both, cooking food and growing food to promote a vibrant and sustainable food system for youth and for the community at large.

“Everybody knows that buying frozen pizza costs much more than making your own dough and sauce,” Jess said. 

“We focus primarily on culinary skills. We build practical applications for those to be demonstrated through cooking challenges.”

The food school was established through the Ministry of Education’s Hospitality and Tourism provincial program that offers an integrated experiential learning experience. Students are introduced to the hospitality industry with an emphasis on professional food service operations.

Courses provide a unique opportunity to learn and develop skills in the student-run school kitchen.

“We do all it all here in a commercial space. As a group, we work together, preparing everything as well as the clean up.  It’s a good safe space to explore and to build confidence,” Jess said.

The hands-on, workplace preparation program introduces students to professional cooking techniques and employability skills, that Jess said will benefit them for life.

Students in grades 9 to 12 can learn a variety of culinary skills including working with a knife and testing a variety of cooking methods from steaming, pan frying to roasting. 

Skills learned offer useful preparation for entry level employment, culinary skill development, and post secondary career opportunities.

“It’s about getting kids in the kitchen and out cooking in groups or independently so they can build confidence and be encouraged to continue.”

Taught by many great chefs in Canada, Australia and the U.S., Jess completed his professional training at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Culinary Program, and at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California.

Since the school began, Jess along with fellow instructor, Nicole DeBeyer, have aimed to utilize locally sourced, natural and organically produced ingredients prepared with creativity by the students at CWDHS.

“We strive to minimize our impact on the environment and go to great lengths to minimize the waste we produce and to make sustainable choices. At times these choices cost more in the short term, but in the long run, we believe our approach benefits us all,” Jess said.

“Next year, Nicole will operate another high school food program which is a huge benefit to our school, pulling together lunches for students and also with a breakfast program so everyone has something to eat in the mornings.”

Over the years, the food school has also offered cookbooks, a culinary club and catering programs.

“The kids are consistently hungry, but hungry for the knowledge and the skills. This is a good opportunity because being at home, it can be tricky. You’ve got parents maybe working on a budget or not feeling confident about their child’s ability to turn on the oven,” Jess said.

“We are very proud with how the kids have responded to our courses. I honestly believe they a getting a really good education in how to be confident cooks in the future and hopefully learn to be able to take care of themselves and others.”


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