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Ernest’s streams into the future of cooking

A man with a surprised face stands before his dish.

By Amy St. Amand

The pandemic had major impacts on the hospitality industry, but one NAIT business is fighting back in an innovative way. Ernest’s at NAIT, one of Edmonton’s top dining establishments according to online restaurant-reservation service Opentable, has started a Twitch Channel to combat the loss of in-person dining.

“[Ernest’s] is a classroom first and foremost, and then it’s a restaurant afterwards. Our main customer…is the students,” said Mitch McCaskill, dining room manager of Ernest’s.

While Twitch, an American live streaming service, typically focuses on video games, McCaskill was inspired after stumbling on home cooks streaming from their kitchens.

“I thought we could probably do one better than what they’re doing, and do it in a commercial kitchen,” said McCaskill.

A man in a shirt and tie explain something to a camera in front of him. Behind him, three chefs cook meals.
Host Chad Cooper explains the challenge to the viewers. The stream uses multiple cameras and switchers to keep things exciting. Photo by Daniel Chamberlin, NAITSA.

At the beginning, McCaskill tested the idea with staff members, and as the idea took shape, involved students on a volunteer-basis. They first focused on cooking items that were popular on social media at the time, but soon realized themed-cooking challenges would be a better education for the students.

“It challenges the students into thinking of a broad-spectrum of things.”

By participating in the Twitch channel, students also get practical experience they can use to prepare for alternative career paths after they graduate.

“It gives them that exposure, to get used to being on camera, and also being interviewed by our host, all these different pressures on them…it’s a lot, but it’s fantastic training for them. They really understand…I don’t have to go to a restaurant or a hotel chain, I can do my own thing, and I can do it with cameras, or I can go on a food show, or I can even be a home cook on Twitch,” said McCaskill.

For the students involved, there are several perks to participating in the voluntary extra-curricular program. McCaskill and the producers of the channel have started a bursary program with funds earned by the channel through donations and subscriptions, because the main goal behind starting the Twitch channel was always to provide opportunities for students.  

Chef John Leung pours a broth onto his dish.
Special guest, Chef John Leung (former Masterchef Canada contestant), puts the finishing touches on his dish.

“Our main goal was to get [the Twitch channel] monetized. And the thought was, well, what do we do with this money when we get it? So, we decided to put it in a bursary for the students to try to give that back once we collect enough funds in there,” said McCaskill. “I’m sure we’ll host competitions like Chopped and give back to those students that win.”

Along with financial opportunities, participating in the Twitch channel also gives unique opportunities for culinary students to connect with viewers, industry professionals, and family members living outside Canada.

“One of the students that was in the cocktail competition, her family in Sri Lanka hasn’t seen her for two years and they got to watch her through Twitch…they got watch her go on and they said it felt so good to be able to see her,” said McCaskill.

Ultimately, McCaskill dreams of a future where more departments incorporate Twitch into their everyday instruction.

“When we were developing it, we thought, we can’t just keep this to ourselves, we want to share with NAIT as a whole. There could be a possibility where Twitch could be incorporated into all of NAIT. You could go to the autobody area and watch a guy work on an engine, or the veterinary clinic, or athletics,” said McCaskill.

Catch their stream on twitch.tv/ErnestsCooking every Monday at 2:30.  

A blonde chef wearing blue gloves puts the finishing touches on her rice dish before her
Chef Crystal puts the finishing touches on her dish: a plant-based sausage raviolo. Photo by Daniel Chamberlin, NAITSA.

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