Dining out and deciding futures with NAIT Culinary Arts 

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Arts & Life

As a result of inflation, restaurants in Edmonton have been struggling to meet costs for ingredients and materials. At NAIT, there are many food stations for students to buy from and dine at, such as Ernest’s, Fresh Express and the new Artisanal Food Market. These options also offer NAIT students a chance to hone their skills and learn about the restaurant industry before graduation. Part of that journey includes learning about some of the industry struggles, like inflation. 

“[Customers] are looking for quality food at a good price,” said Paul Campbell, Chair of the Culinary Arts program at NAIT. While the program isn’t immune to the rising food costs, Campbell said they have an advantage being an educational institute. 

“We are not mandated to make money. We are mandated for education.” 

The other advantage of NAIT’s food services revolve around labour costs. “We are not paying labour. So our costs are a little bit lower and that’s why you see the prices are a little lower,” Campbell explained. 

There are still costs associated with running a restaurant, educational institute or not.  “You are looking for a certain food-cost-percentage … you always try to make a profit. So food costs, let’s call it 30 per cent, labour is going to cost you 30 to 40 per cent, now you’ve got other overhead. In all reality you’re making five per cent profit. So not very profitable.”

The cost of food depends on the customer’s ability and willingness to pay for a product.

“[At] a higher end restaurant, you are going to expect higher quality foods. From a fast-food place you don’t necessarily expect high quality, but you do expect consistency,” Campbell stated.

Preparing for the industry

Receiving a Culinary Arts education will help young culinarians prepare for working in the restaurant or service industry. NAIT’s Culinary Arts program focuses on hands-on-learning and working well as a team. 

“We do a Thanksgiving dinner for Boyle Street. If a student happens to volunteer for that, absolutely put that in your resume or portfolio. We just did a dinner for the government of Alberta. It’s called the [Alberta] Order of Excellence, which is the highest award you can get as a citizen in Alberta,” Campbell shared.

Despite the uncertainty of prices, Campbell is pleased with the level of support from NAIT students and staff.  

“We are grateful for their support. Like I said, you see the line-up at Fresh Express every day, and it’s out the door and down the hallway. Which is fantastic, it is a good problem to have.”

Some advice he had for new chefs is to follow your interests and to pursue career opportunities as they present themselves.

“Learn as much as you can. Have some patience as well, you are not always going to come out of culinary school and land that dream job,” Campbell expressed. “You can always learn, not only in cooking and culinary, but even in life.”

Cover photo via NAIT Content Collective

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