Thursday, 27 November 2014, 1:26 am

Signature chefs leave their mark

Chefs Marc Lyons, left, and Mark Longster, right, preparing for the Chef Signature Series event on Feb. 8. Photo by Michelle AllenbergBy MICHELLE ALLENBERG
Staff Writer
Six of Niagara’s best chefs came together to create a once in a lifetime culinary experience at Benchmark, Niagara College’s restaurant.
The second Chef Signature Series at Benchmark on Feb. 8 featured Chefs Ray Taylor, Tim Mackiddie, Mark Longster, Marc Lyons, Chris Smythe and Catherine O’Donnell. Some of the Niagara College culinary students were lucky enough to work with the chefs, preparing and plating food.
Osvaldo Avila, chef professor at Niagara College, assisted at the event and says the most important thing is for the chefs to see the talent of the students. “We want to showcase students and get the students to be comfortable here.”
Craig Youdale, dean of the Food and Wine Institute, says he was “absolutely” looking forward to the event and seeing the students work with the chefs. “We have so many good chefs in the region and we wanted to bring in chefs that are good to us.” Youdale says it is important for the chefs to connect with students.
Lyons, executive chef at Tiara at Queen’s Landing, says the best advice he can give students is that it takes a lot of hard work to be a chef, “long hours and no vacations. You need to buckle down and realize the party will be there another day.”
Many students were looking forward to working with such great chefs. Eric Kang, 19, a first-year Culinary Management student, says the “great chefs are the best part.”
He adds it is “good experience” for most students to be part of the Chef Signature Series event.
Alex Cross, 19, a second-year Culinary Management student who volunteered to work the event, says she was “really interested in some of the chefs” that were there. “With any luck, today I’ll get to talk to them and get my foot in the door with the right restaurant.”
Longster, executive chef at Cannery at Pillar and Post, says working with the Niagara College students has been “excellent” and it always is. He says it is important for students to “get creative and don’t stick with a recipe.”
Longster graduated from Niagara College in 1994 noting the culinary program has “come a long way.” He adds culinary has “grown, itself” and there are so many new techniques today.
Chris Smythe, executive chef of the Prince of Wales Hotel, graduated from Niagara College in 1992 and says the program’s “growth is unbelievable.”
The Niagara Region’s culinary is growing and “we couldn’t have a better environment for this education.”
Smythe says he takes any chance he can “to get involved in the college.”
Tim Mackiddie, estate chef of Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin, says the evening is a “great opportunity” for the students and “a great night out” for the chefs. “It should be a lot of fun.”
Smythe agrees and says he looks forward to an environment with other chefs. “Today is like a day off and it is an enjoyable evening.”
Youdale says it is important for the chefs to come to the college and work with students because “it is like the ultimate job fair.” He adds job fairs don’t give students the opportunity to see what the chef is like. At an event like this “students get to see how they [chefs] work together.”
After a long and busy evening of students and chefs moving around the kitchen trying to prepare a perfect four-course meal the chefs were pleased with the outcome.
Lyons says the event “went a lot better” than he thought it would. He adds there were four components to the course Longster, Lyons and Smythe were creating, which made them “a little nervous.” He says he was very “impressed” with the students he worked with and everything turned out well.
Avila says the students have been doing “great” and they will be getting co-ops out of the experience.
“The chefs are looking for passion and everyone here absolutely has this passion.”

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