If the kitchen is the heart of a home, then the kitchen at Tollgate Technological Skills Centre is the heart of its community.
This year – for the 10th year in a row – students in the Hospitality Specialist High Skills Major program will prepare a full turkey dinner from scratch, with all of the traditional fixings and sides. They’ll prepare several, actually, as they work through a busy schedule of festive luncheons in a flurry of activity leading up to the holiday break. But the most meaningful meals will serve fellow students, and go toward making the season a little merrier for those in the community who might not otherwise experience it.
“Honestly, it’s just really nice to be able to give back and make sure everyone has the chance to enjoy a turkey dinner this time of year,” says Tristan, a Grade 12 student in the program who is preparing turkey breasts and thighs using a sous vide technique. “The whole experience of it is special… it means a lot to be able to share a meal together.”
Over in a separate part of the kitchen, whole birds are cued up and waiting for the oven. Approximately 100 will be cooked in this kitchen in the weeks before the holidays.
“This is the 13th turkey today and it’s only 10 a.m.,” says Jordan, a Grade 11 student in the program, as he pulls a pan from the oven. He’s working with fellow student Hunter in a tag-team fashion to ensure each bird is seasoned, moist, and tender. “Cooking it together with the vegetables in the pan gives it more flavour.”
At the other end of the kitchen, Food Technician Melanie Cattle is working with a small team of students as they prepare desserts.
“We’ve made 300 cupcakes and 100 carrot cakes so far,” Cattle says as she demonstrates how to pipe freshly whipped cream cheese icing from a pastry bag before Grade 12 student Amanda takes over. “Seeing people’s happy expressions when they come through to eat and how genuinely excited they are is pretty rewarding.”
Preparing a series of meals on this scale is not cheap, and that’s where Tollgate’s culture of caring comes in. Teachers and support staff at the school and the wider Board have rallied to raise funds and food items, and Hospitality-program suppliers such as Forte Produce and local grocery stores donate food. The nearest Metro even surprised Tony Fordham, Hospitality program teacher, with $250 to put towards the efforts when he was last in purchasing supplies.
The holiday tradition began in 2009 with a snowstorm that put a wrench in the planning of the school meal that year. In a serendipitous turn, and not wanting to see students’ efforts in preparing the fresh food go to waste, the school reached out to Nova Vita, a local residential and counselling services centre for women and children escaping violence and homelessness, and Stedman Community Hospice, to supply a special meal. Each year since then, the Hospitality program’s mission has been to make sure that no student goes without a freshly cooked, traditional meal, and that the surrounding community can benefit too.
The turkey dinners are in keeping with the spirit of Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan, demonstrating the plan’s Community and Well-Being foundations.
“This school works incredibly hard to support its students, parents, and families,” says Fordham, who is blown away by the generosity of the school’s staff and the Hospitality program’s suppliers. “There’s a lot of heart and soul here.”
The warmth of the kitchen certainly radiates this time of year.
“It’s a really good vibe here, and we all get along with each other,” says student Amanda as she prepares a vinaigrette. “This kitchen is my favourite part of the school.”