During the week of March 13, Culinary Arts students worked alongside NAIT’s 2023 Hokanson Chefs in Residence, Connie DeSousa and John Jackson. The Chef in Residence program, started in 2009, brings world-renowned chefs to the Hokanson Centre for Culinary Arts. DeSousa and Jackson, the thirteenth and fourteenth Chefs in Residence respectively, are the first chefs from Alberta to be featured. DeSousa, who has appeared on Top Chef Canada, Top Chef All-Stars, and the Food Network’s Fire Masters, is celebrated for her butchery skills and has competed in multiple culinary competitions worldwide. Jackson, who started cooking at a young age, focuses on farm-to-table cuisine that takes inspiration from his experiences opening prestigious restaurants worldwide. Together, DeSousa and Jackson co-own several restaurants and businesses in Calgary.
At a press conference on March 13, DeSousa provided her recommendations to young culinarians. “Stay in school, finish the program, but travel while you can,” said DeSousa. “Our jobs are needed everywhere in the world, but then come home and bring the knowledge that you’ve learned back to [your] city and let the people reap the wealth of that knowledge.”
DeSousa and Jackson participated in a Q&A session at the Shaw Theatre with the Culinary Arts students on Tuesday. One of the main points they talked about was establishing a proper work-life balance. “It was a learning process that took us over three years until we discovered how critical balance is in our industry,” said Jackson. DeSousa and Jackson described how previously the industry culture worked to disrupt that balance. “We [had] this chef guilt, where you know you’re not the first one there or the last one to leave,” said Jackson. “The industry is shifting, and it is incredible to see the positive changes that are happening,” said DeSousa.
Students in their second year of the culinary arts program were able to work alongside DeSousa and Jackson throughout the rest of the week. Together, they prepared a DeSousa and Jackson-inspired three-course lunch and a four-course dinner on Thursday. An additional four-course dinner was served on Friday, solely prepared by students. Four second-year culinary arts students participating in the program, Britannia Brown, Justin Davidson, Brayden Hyland, and Rahaf Shaheen, spoke about what they hope to gain from working with DeSousa and Jackson. “I’d like to learn some new techniques, how they like to do things and their recipes. Seems pretty complex and fun,” said Davidson. “Mainly new flavours, techniques and advice for their Argentinian way of cooking in their [restaurants],” said Shaheen. “Learning about where they came from and the work that they put in. It’s pretty inspirational to see how far they have come from their roots and how we might translate that into ours,” said Hyland. “They are role models as well because they came from where we are. It gives me [the] motivation that I could probably be like them when I’m done,” said Brown.
The Chef in Residence program has been a big part of the Culinary Arts program for many years. It was started by the Hokanson family, who first donated money towards the renovations of Ernest’s and the kitchens. After that, they donated money towards the Chef in Residence program, explained Hong Chew, Chair of the Culinary Arts and Professional Food Studies program at NAIT.
There are a few goals of the Chef in Residence program, said Chew: “[Having] well-renowned chefs coming, teaching, and spending time with our students. Showing them the different techniques and the intricacies of what propelled them to stardom.”
During COVID-19, the program had to adjust–having chefs in residence wasn’t feasible. “We pivoted to a different format and did the Alumni Chef Series. We profiled a lot of our alumni chefs that have done very well in industry, many having opened their own restaurants or hold high-profile positions with large organizations,” said Chew. “We had a videographer go to their place of work and film them preparing a particular dish, showcasing their skills and their vision as to what food is for their lens. This was something that was shared on our program page with all our students,” said Chew. “An important aspect for students to realize that they are not learning one particular style. What we provide them is a solid foundation in culinary principles and how to prepare and look at food differently.”
Although the Chef in Residence events have finished, there are still several more culinary events students can attend. On March 31st there is an Indigenous Perspectives Wine dinner with Chef Scott Jonathon Iserhoff of Pei Pei Chei Ow. To reserve a table, call 780.471.8685 or email email@example.com.