Only 12 students studied culinary arts when Margo Murphy started teaching at Templeton secondary in 1989. Now 10 times that number enrol in culinary arts there each year.
Thats because Murphy directs her passion into taking the program far beyond prepping food for the cafeteria, says principal Aaron Davis. Murphy gets teenagers working in restaurant kitchens, competing in provincial and national skills competitions and serving gourmet food to homeless people in Oppenheimer Park.
To see students come back and thank her, from 15 years ago, is a pretty special thing, he said. At her retirement dinner a number of graduates came back that she had taught, some as recent as last year and some from probably over 10 years ago who are highly successful. One of them is the executive sous chef for the Vancouver Club and he just spoke about how important and what an impact she was on his life and is largely responsible for him being what he is today. He was a new immigrant to the country and here he is, hes a highly successful chef now.
Davis and former students arent alone in their veneration of Murphy.
This year the park board recognized her as an important contributor to Vancouvers food community with its remarkable women poster series. The park board lauded her for educating thousands of young people about food and nutrition, inviting famous chefs into the school and organizing high-level work experience placements.
Murphy hangs up her apron Friday after 24 years teaching culinary arts on Templeton Drive near Nanaimo Street and 40 years as a teacher.
A department head for applied skills, shell miss her colleagues and bonding with students over a hands-on activity.
Its a very different thing than doing math with them, she said.
Murphy and her colleagues want to start a Templeton chefs alumni.
So that when theyre in different places of the world they can be in touch and say hey, were hiring, anybody interested? And theyll know whether or not the kids have the skills, she said.
An industrial catering program for special needs kids operated when Murphy started at Templeton. She slowly got more students into more challenging kitchens including at Cactus Club.
I could really see the difference once the students started going out there, Murphy said. They were really proud of themselves. There was this professional air about them that hadnt been there before The other kids wanted to be the same. Every time we sent people out it raised the bar a little bit higher. And now, this last year, we sent out 60 students.
Murphy said all of her Accelerated Credit Enrolment In Industry Training, or ACE-IT, students who complete work experience and gain credits from Vancouver Community College secure apprenticeships.
Her former student who works as executive sous chef at the Vancouver Club welcomes Templeton culinary students into his kitchen every year where students get to work with lobster, crab and molecular gastronomy. Thirty-five Templeton students worked there last Christmas.
Murphy started Templetons Iron Chef Competition in 2004 so that students who worked on a cafeteria production line could create a meal from start to finish.
She tells students the not-so-secret ingredient in November. Students prepare for the competition in teams in and out of class, preparing an appetizer, a main course and dessert that all include the ingredient. Chefs that include celebrity cooker Rob Feenie judge the competition.
Where else do you have an Iron Chef Competition where a real Iron Chef comes and judges? Davis said.
The funny thing is, Murphy only studied home economics to placate her parents. Her mother was the Vancouver School Boards home economics coordinator.
I failed first year university and I thought my parents were going to kill me so I thought I was going to go into home ec, Murphy said. It wasnt a love, believe me. It was saving my rear end.
But Murphy has loved her career.
Its a real honour to be able to be a teacher, she said.