Chef Juriaan Reports from Toronto - McCormick Canada sponsors high school culinary fundraiser

October 04th 2018

Chef Juriaan Reports from Toronto - McCormick Canada sponsors high school culinary fundraiser

Chef Juriaan reports from Toronto: McCormick Canada sponsors high school culinary fundraiser


If you know any teenagers who are about as comfortable in the kitchen as you would be in a skate park, you might be amazed to hear there’s a high school that offers a comprehensive culinary program. You might be even more amazed to hear it’s very popular!

Toronto’s Thistletown Collegiate Institute runs an innovative culinary program. More than just a “home ec” style credit, this is a full farm-to-table experience and requires a two-year commitment. The crown jewel of the program is an annual trip to a global culinary destination, with the next trip seeing the kids heading off to Spain.

Of course, flying to Spain can be costly, so the staff and students have teamed up with some of the best chefs in Toronto to create an epic fundraiser. It’s called the Thistletown Chefs Harvest Garden Party, and this year McCormick Canada was a proud sponsor. Our very own Chief Executive Chef Juriaan Snellen joined the likes of Shahir Massoud from CBC’s The Goods, John Morris from the CN Tower’s 360 restaurant, and Nick Liu from Dailo, amongst other luminaries from the Toronto and Southern Ontario culinary scene.

Tapas al fresco

The event took place both inside and outside the school. “It turned out to be a beautiful day - the weather was perfect. Blue skies and no wind,” Chef Juriaan reports.

“The theme of this year's event was Spanish tapas,” he explains. “They had about 20 different stations set up outside where people could sample some of the dishes. John Higgins from Top Chef Canada made charcoal roasted sardines. Trevor Lui from Kanpai Snack Bar did a tea smoked egg topped with salmon roe. All of the chefs had to use one or two of our Club House for Chefs ingredients of the McCormick's Branded Food Service Division. There was a lot of smoked paprika being used, a lot of piri piri seasoning, but also cinnamon sticks and thyme and fennel.”

Inside the school auditorium, a series of cooking demonstrations took place. Chef Juriaan took the stage and, with the help of some eager students, created a dish for the lucky audience.

“I made a charred, sous vide octopus served with a romesco sauce topped off with a chorizo gremolata and served with my take on patatas bravas,” Chef Juriaan tells us. “Traditionally they’re marinated, blanched potatoes seared on a plancha. Then they’re topped off with two sauces. One is a spicy tomato sauce, the other is a creamy garlic aioli.”

Putting a flavour solution to the test

“What we’ve done at the McCormick test kitchen,” he continues, “is take those two sauce profiles and turn them into a snack seasoning. We’ve developed a reddish, spicy tomato seasoning, and a whiteish, creamy garlic seasoning. We coated potato chips, some with the tomato seasoning, and some with the garlic, and we instructed the audience to take one of each of the chips, put them together and eat them as a sandwich, so they get both the experiences.”

“I demonstrated how to make the sauce, and we seared off the octopus right in front of the audience and plated everything on a live-edge board. While I was doing the demo, the students were preparing little sample portions of that same dish. The students came out and passed around those little dishes so everyone in the audience could have a taste.”

As Chef Juriaan tells us, however, the program at Thistletown Collegiate isn’t just about cooking. “Towards the end of the event, we did a group photo of all the chefs in the garden. The school tries as much as possible to use the fresh produce grown there,” he explains. “It also teaches the students to be a bit more mindful and respectful of produce, to learn to work with minimal waste, and see the whole process and the amount of labour and time that goes into tending the fields and harvesting. There’s a lot of sweat equity that goes into that. It gives the students an appreciation for produce and fresh vegetables.”

From Spain con amor

And how did he enjoy the Spanish theme? “I love Spain. I’ve had the opportunity to visit many times, and Barcelona is probably one of my favourite cities in the world. What I love about Spanish cuisine is that it’s very pure. It’s not a difficult cuisine: there’s a handful of ingredients that are carefully picked and sourced and then beautifully prepared; just a little bit of a light seasoning and you’re good to go.”

“In our 2017 Flavour Forecast, one of the trends we featured was plancha cooking,” he reminds us, “and that is heavily inspired by Spanish cuisine. I am a big fan of Spanish food, and it’s good to see that here in Canada we’re starting to tap into that way of eating - smaller portions, sharing, taking your time, and matching it up with a perfect glass of wine or cider, sherry or a beer.”

Overall, the event attracted more than 20 chefs and 300 paying guests. In total, they were able to raise more than $20,000 to offset the costs of the trip. And the response from those in attendance?

“People were very excited about the whole experience,” Chef Juriaan reports. “It’s always good to do something to help out, but I was so pleasantly surprised that there were so many big Torontonian chefs that were attached to this event. It looks like it’s going to continue to grow.”

Lessons for life are learned in the kitchen

Of course, despite all the celebrity chefs and incredible food, the most important part of the Thistletown Chefs Harvest Garden Party is the students. “All the student going on this trip were there. You could see there were very excited to work with the chefs, “Chef Juriaan noted. “They were very helpful. I had one student helping me with the demo and an additional five assigned to plating the samples. They were very passionate. I was surprised by the excitement and level of enthusiasm of the students. Anything they could do to help or assist, they were there for us.”

For his final thoughts on the event, Chef Juriaan talked about the value of the experience each student gains from the program. “They might not all end up in a culinary role, but at least they’ve gotten to work in a kitchen, grow produce, travel, try different foods and cultures. Even if they end up becoming lawyers and surgeons and salespersons, they still had that experience, and they can still benefit from that.”