Cascade Culinary Arts School: Feeding a community

The Salvation Army program in Abbotsford is celebrating its recent renovation.

Program director Phillip Lie shows off one of his creations in the newly renovated kitchen at the Cascade Culinary Arts School.

by Tim Fitzgerald, Black Press contributor

Breaking the cycle of poverty requires a hunger by those trapped inside to break out of the disheartening pattern. It also compels those on the outside to reach out and lend a helping hand.

It’s no coincidence that much of the work done by the Salvation Army starts with fulfilling the basic need of food. Without food, it’s impossible to expect safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization to follow.

So with the completion of the renovation of its Cascade Culinary Arts School, the Sally Ann is sending the message that the cycle of poverty can be broken and the needs of the disenfranchised can be met.

“It’s interesting, whether it’s through our meal centre, our drop-in centre, culinary program or the food we supply to our local schools, nutrition is one of our highest priorities,” said Deb Lowell, public relations director for the Abbotsford Salvation Army. “We believe it’s the springboard to better health.”

The expansion reinforced the commitment of the Sally Ann’s Mission board and the management team to continue the work they started in 2003, she said. Back then, they had no idea how successful the culinary program would be. More than 90 per cent of all its students graduate and find meaningful work in the food services industry.

Because of its certification, Lowell pointed out its standards rival any other in the province. Students must achieve a grade of at least 75 per cent to pass their courses.

Lowell said it’s not uncommon for students to win gold at the annual B.C. Skills Competition.

Currently, the school offers programs for students to earn their professional cook 1 and 2 certificates. More importantly, the renovations have allowed the school to add the professional cook’s Red Seal program, making it the first private post-secondary school in B.C. to offer the course. Red Seal emphasizes the finer arts of becoming a chef and working independently within a kitchen, but also mastering the business side of the profession. Planning menus, keeping budgets, and communications are all incorporated in the classes.

Phillip Lie, program director and executive chef at Cascade, said he’s ecstatic with the commitment the Salvation Army has shown towards this program.

“This has been one of the best jobs I have ever had,” said Lie, who has been travelling back and forth from Port Moody for the last three years since taking the job.

“When this organization decides to do something, when it believes in something, they get behind it 100 per cent. It’s not if we can do this, but how can we do this. I never dreamt of that kind of action when I first came here.”

Lie said the positive effect the program has on the community is what strikes him most. Students  at Cascade, who would otherwise have to travel to Vancouver for the equivalent quality of education, can stay in Abbotsford.

“They simply wouldn’t go. Most of them wouldn’t have the financial or personal support to go to school in Vancouver. A big part of the success of this program is fuelled from the attitude of the top of the organization on down.”

Another part of the success is attributed to the hands-on education. Lowell said because class sizes are limited to 14 students, teachers are able to devote more one-on-one time.

“The cool thing is that many of our students succeed in our setting, whereas they struggled in a traditional classroom. It’s amazing to see them become a completely different person.”

The renovations are also paving the way for Cascade to open its own restaurant, where they will be able to offer an affordable place to enjoy fine dining for those in the community who otherwise can’t afford it.

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