IB Goes Inside the Industry with Chef Christophe Kwiatkowsky

February 26, 2009

So, what should we have for dinner?

In the majority of cities around the world, this question would not require a great deal of deliberation. Each region has its staple fare, its traditions, and very specific foundations for its cuisine. Food is influenced by cultural identity, so those in ethnically homogenous societies where food diversity is not readily available, to hearken it to food journalist Michael Pollen’s koala bear example, will be having eucalyptus leaves tonight.

But as Vancouverites well know, we’re privy to one of the most impressive culinary landscapes in the world. As an internationally-recognized city, our population represents all corners of the globe, and all walks of life. Ethnic eateries are embraced and celebrated, and certainly not in short supply. Though our sophisticated populous recognizes this good fortune, we may still take for granted the sight of a Mongolian restaurant next door to an Ethiopian café – across the street from a Jamaican diner. This, folks, is not the norm.

To best understand Vancouver’s culinary climate, we need to thoroughly explore its framework. And who better to discuss Vancouver’s place in the food world, and the food world’s place in Vancouver, than a well-traveled chef who helps produce not only some of its greatest culinary creations, but also the next generation of students whose creativity and vision will help us continue to make our culinary mark.

Chef Christophe Kwiatkowsky, food consultant and owner of Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, has spent over 25 years in the food and hospitality industries, perfecting his skills and palate throughout Europe, Canada, and the West Indies. He has worked in five star hotels, owned his own restaurant, and served aboard high-profile cruise ships. Before opening his own academy with Chef Tony Minichiello, he taught for five years at the esteemed Dubrulle Culinary Institute.

Chef Christophe on Vancouver’s evolved food culture:

“Vancouver is a true culinary microclimate,” he says. “If you go down to Seattle, or anywhere else close by, you’ll see it’s completely different. The selection is diverse and, for the price, the quality would rival that of any major city in the world.” He adds: “There exists a very sophisticated and educated clientele in Vancouver. People here want to know the source of their food. They want their food to be local, organic and ethically grown.”

On North American and European attitudes toward food:

“People in North America make a big deal about where their food comes from. They want to know if the fish is sustainable, if the food is organic, what’s in the food, and if it’s all fair trade. In Europe, these topics do not receive a lot of mainstream attention, and aren’t discussed nearly as much. They’re important things to consider, but the topic has been beaten into the ground.” Chef Christophe suggests for people to, “Go with the flow. Enjoy the food you eat, and don’t focus so much on food politics. It takes too much away from the actual enjoyment and experience of eating.”

On the business of the industry:

Chef Christophe says that thinking ahead and having multi-skilled employees are keys for achieving success in this difficult and competitive business.
“I find restaurant chefs aren’t always organized with respect to their employee’s growth and development,” he states. “Chefs sometimes fly by the seat of their pants and don’t have a long-term plan. They don’t always realise that new cooks need ongoing coaching and training, and should be prepared at more than one position.” He adds: “Hotels do better because they’re better planners and are willing to pay more for quality help.”
He also thinks that some of the time spent on food analysis should be put towards improving the quality of the employees, as they are the very crux of a successful establishment.

On Vancouver

Chef Christophe says there are two kinds of cooks: “Those who are passionate about cooking and will never do anything else, and those who are just looking for a paycheck.”
“Cooks here are still making $12-$14 an hour in our industry,” he says. “Employers want to have a stable job pool to choose from, but at those wages, in this city, there is no stability.”
He also notes that people transitioning to higher paying jobs in the construction sector have hurt the overall talent pool.
“When somebody can make $20 an hour in construction, they do it. To retain quality help, restaurants need to think about where the cooks come from.” He adds that businesses should recognize where their students have been, what kind of training they’ve received, and remember that quality and stability comes with a price.

On his teaching philosophy:

Students need to familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of cooking, Chef Christophe says, but that doing too much of the same thing for too long can be counter-productive.
“Students need to have diversity in their tasks, and should know when to move on to something new. That is partly on the instructors, but it is also up to the students to be proactive, both in their growth and for their futures.”
“It is important to closely monitor your students while they’re training, and stay in touch with them once they’ve entered employment,” he states. “I’m much more aware of where my students go now than ever before.”

Please visit the Northwest Culinary Acacademy of Vancouver’s website for more information.


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