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Cooking up a career at Esquimalt High

Esquimalt High grad Julian Lecky-Harris, back to hone his cooking skills, offers up cookies in the school kitchen. Culinary arts students run the cafeteria and feed classmates four days a week. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
Esquimalt High grad Julian Lecky-Harris, back to hone his cooking skills, offers up cookies in the school kitchen. Culinary arts students run the cafeteria and feed classmates four days a week.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

Julian Lecky-Harris is doing something his fellow graduates might call crazy.

He went back to high school. By choice.

But the former Esquimalt High student, now 19, isn’t trying to raise his marks or make up any classes.

Instead, he’s helping to revitalize the school’s culinary arts career program after it gave him the motivation and necessary skills to pursue his passion.

“I figured what better way to help the program than to help the students who haven’t done it before,” said Lecky-Harris, who also works part time at Moon over Water brewpub.

“I also wanted the reference for college,” he added, laughing.

That reference, from Esquimalt instructor and red seal chef Brandon Aris, got Lecky-Harris into the culinary arts program Camosun College. He starts in January.

It’s just one success story of a program Lecky-Harris said has sometimes been labeled as a “dumping ground for students who aren’t doing well.”

The stereotype is brushed aside by Aris, who took over the culinary arts program last January, and brings with him nearly 20 years experience in the field.

“They take this program because it’s where they want to go,” Aris said. “I’m training them so that they have the skills to step out into the restaurant industry and not just work in fast food.”

His passion seems infectious as his 16 students scurry from station to station in the cafeteria kitchen, pulling baked cookies from the oven, washing pans and adding flour to a dough mixer.

“Having my trade and my red seal, I knew this is where I wanted to be,” said the former Canoe Brewpub chef. His goal is to restructure the courses so that they better conform to the provincially certified ACE-IT program, which allows dual credit courses for high school students looking to pursue a trade apprenticeship.

Only three other schools in Greater Victoria – Stelly’s, Spectrum and Edward Milne – offer the culinary program, which begins in Grade 10 and expands in Grades 11 and 12. The half-day courses include theory, cafeteria training and cook training.

“When you first step in (to the kitchen), you have no idea what to do,” Lecky-Harris said. “You don’t know how to hold or sharpen a knife, (the) sauces that you need to know how to make and which spices go together, things like that.”

While he did quite well in other trades classes such as woodworking and metal working, he said the creativity of culinary arts is most appealing. “I like the way you can make it taste, make it look,” he said.

Aris couldn’t say how many of his 16 current students will go on to be chefs, but hopes the program will benefit from his dedication to his new line of work.

“This program has gone through numerous instructors in the last 10 years, so there’s been no continuity,” he said. “It’s a process to restructure how things work.”

It may not take as long as he thinks. Like any good teacher, he’s energized when he sees his students succeed, and already he has examples to draw upon.

Last spring, Aris helped two former students make a gingerbread house for the Royal Conservatory of Music’s annual fundraiser.

“It was auctioned off and it ended up going for $475 at the auction,” he said. “You should have seen the look on their faces.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Traditional pit cooking demonstration slated

For a change in culinary delights, Esquimalt High’s First Nations studies class students are trying traditional pit cooking. They’ll demonstrate how to cook root vegetables by digging a hole in the ground and covering it with foliage. The students will show how to smoke salmon as well. The event happens Dec. 11 at 10:30 a.m. beside the school, 847 Colville Rd.

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