Student gets on-the-job exposure to chef's duties

Story:Spending a day last Wednesday with Victoria Landing head chef Shawn Evens just confirmed in Ashton Mychasiw's mind that he would love to have a long career in the kitchen.

As part of the Brandon School Division's 13th annual Take Our Kids to Work Day, Mychasiw, a Grade 9 Vincent Massey student, spent from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. job-shadowing Evens, a 20-year veteran who has been head chef at Victoria Landing since April.

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Mychasiw said he decided three or four years ago that he wanted to become a chef. "I've always done a lot of cooking with my parents, a lot of chicken and other meats. And I've learned a lot of ways to cook vegetables." The aspiring chef also said he makes a mean cheesecake - "things my mother taught me over the years."

Although the two had never met before Wednesday morning, Chef Evens and Student Mychasiw have a common bond: Ashton's mother Cynamon is Shawn's wife's boss at the United Way.

Mychasiw said he learned a lot from Evens, a former military chef who has had a number of postings around the world, including a seven-month stint in Afghanistan. "I was hoping to learn about the kitchen, and I found out it's a lot more complex than people think."

True enough. Evens said cooking tasty, nutritious and healthy meals for more than 100 senior citizens is only one part of the job. Purchasing food, managing staff and designing menus are other duties on his plate.

The 13-year-old Mychasiw, who will be 14 next week, said he realizes that "you have to work hard to get anywhere" in the food world. Evens said a chef's credentials are certified only after 5,000 practicum hours are spent under the watchful eye of a certified chef.

Mychasiw said he will strongly consider taking the Culinary Arts course at Assiniboine Community College, a program Evens said is one of the best in Canada. There is a shortage of chefs in Canada, he said, but not in Western Manitoba, thanks to the geographic advantage of ACC.

"It's a pretty intense industry," said Evens. "Many young chefs don't survive that first year."

Serving as chef at an institution such as Victoria Landing is less stressful than in a restaurant or in the military, Evens said. One of the most difficult aspects of a chef's job is to know how much food to prepare - not too much, certainly not too little - but at Victoria Landing, he has a captive audience. "You always know how many people you're going to have," he said.

Quite a few high school students work as serving staff, and Mychasiw hopes to get hired in that capacity sometime in the future. Everybody has to start somewhere, said Evens, who washed dishes in a restaurant for five years before embarking on his lifelong career.

Janie McNish, work placement co-ordinator with the school division, said more than 250 businesses and organizations hosted students in Brandon and nine communities outside the city.

McNish said spending a day on the job with a relative or friend helps students develop an appreciation for the importance of staying in school and getting a high school diploma.

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