Unique Culinary Careers: Stephen Field

When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before.

Since the book's release, they have been discovering even more interesting culinary career paths. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature: “Unique Culinary Careers.” At Covenant House in Toronto, Stephen Field is the Culinary Facilitator/Foodservice Manager for Canada’s largest youth shelter. As more than just a place to stay, Covenant House provides vocational training in the culinary arts as part of their Cooking for Life program. Field teaches essential culinary skills to youth essential culinary skills in the program, helping them find careers and get a new start in life.

How would you describe your job?

My position is culinary facilitator/ foodservice manager with Covenant House Toronto. We provide 24-7 crisis care and have the widest range of services under one roof, including education, counseling, health care and employment assistance. Covenant House Toronto serves the needs of approximately 4,000 youth annually. Part of our commitment toward vocational training provided at Covenant House Toronto is the new culinary skills training program Cooking for Life launched in June 2011.

Homeless kids are provided with the skills they need to work in the hospitality industry through our new culinary arts program. Working in teams, participants learn the professional conduct required to work in a fast-paced restaurant environment. Graduates can earn a safe food-handling certificate and receive support to help find a food service job. Furthermore, they will be better equipped to cook for themselves when they move out on their own.

What inspires you?

Throughout my career, I have worked with disadvantaged groups in the community and felt strongly in the opportunity to work with Covenant House Toronto whose efforts help thousands of young people move from a life on the streets to a life with a future. From a historical perspective, chefs have always being involved with community, as nurturers and innovators in finding solutions to feeding the hungry and those at risk, such as France’s 19th-century Chef Alex Soyer, one of my inspirations.

What is the most satisfying thing about your job?

The opportunity to work with our youth in teaching skills and training in the culinary arts field is most gratifying. From a personal perspective, it is life-affirming to see a youth’s interest catch fire for the culinary arts and watch them progress with self-confidence and pride. Our six-week culinary training program incorporates the “soil to plate” concept in everything from growing and caring for the vegetables, herbs, and fruits grown on our innovative rooftop garden, to learning how to best prepare them into tasty nutritious meals we serve to the youth living at Covenant House.

We estimate that about 120 young people will benefit from our training annually. The youth come into our program with little or no knowledge of the culinary arts, or even being part of a collective team relying on one another’s help. It is more than learning about cooking, it is also about building self-esteem and a shared community. Upon completion we will have helped instill a passion for cooking, provided a stepping-stone in their career path, and contributed in building their independence by learning how to take better care of themselves.

What is your advice for anyone looking for a similar career?

My advice is to get involved with your local community at a grassroots level, offering your culinary skills, experience in food production and leadership abilities in working with people, especially those at greatest risk, such as our homeless youth.  

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