Students at Vancouver Community College are serving gourmet dishes like fried cod taco and pork belly sandwiches at a new cafeteria with an international flair.
Quizine Kitchen, which opened at the East Broadway campus April 9, is the latest spin-off from its sister cafeteria in the downtown campus, long known for its below-market prices. The new cafeteria is “higher end” than cafeteria food with meals around $8. It’s run by a group of 24 international students from as far away as Turkey, Vietnam and Japan who are part of the culinary arts diploma program.
“We thought we’d have a slow opening but the first day was brutal. We’re just trying to keep up, trying to find ourselves,” said instructor chef JC Felicella.
The classroom kitchen was conceived by Felicella last summer when the school’s cafeteria was run by a private company. After the company departed a month ago, the school had a two-week window to refurbish the existing kitchen into one that’s “conducive to learning.” The space boasts new circulators, evaporators, a blast freezer, and smokers among other modern equipment.
Felicella never planned to be a teacher, but after helping out with the college 14 years ago he’s stayed on and eventually became the program’s department head.
“I had my restaurant [La Toque Blanche] at the same time for three years, and basically I had to make a choice.”
Since Felicella closed the restaurant to focus on teaching, he says “it’s a learning curve daily.”
“Chefs can be somewhat brutal... It’s my way or the highway, that’s the culture of being a chef. But things change when you’re with students,” he said.
“Every teacher will tell you, it’s quite rewarding with the students, especially the ones who are truly dedicated to the craft. Keeping me fresh too.
Sometimes, you get a little stale when you’re out of the industry. I don’t do that. I’m heavily involved. I challenge myself. ... There are so many young cooks out there, I need to be a step above.”
Student Titus Joseph, who’s from Singapore, was glad to see the positive response since Quizine Kitchen’s opening except for the hectic first day where customers complained about slow service.
“I’m happy that people are appreciative,” he said. “Their response so far has been good. Of course, there are a few negative information [from customers]. Some of the students have never done this before so they’re not use to [cooking] under pressure.”
With the program’s cultural diversity, Joseph has learned more than just cooking skills.
“We’re all learning a little bit of each other’s culture. We also learn their different dietary habits.”
After years of working in places like the Gobi Desert for a Canadian company, he says he’s ready to get to the basics again in the program.