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The value of small provincial specialist associations

BC Culinary Arts Specialist Association members (L to R) Scott Roberts, Donna Frost, and Meghan Dehghan welcoming conference attendees. Photos provided by authors.

By Trevor Randle (he/him), President, BC Culinary Arts Specialist Association and chef instructor, Maple Ridge, and Lori Pilling (she/her), Vice-President, BC Culinary Arts Specialist Association and chef instructor, Delta


Provincial Specialist Association (PSA) Day is an important time for teachers to experience professional development, collaboration, and learning. This day has long been (and continues to be) invaluable to the chef instructors of the BC Culinary Arts Specialist Association (BCCASA). If your school is fortunate enough to have a culinary arts program, you are one of the lucky 64 schools throughout the province to witness first-hand the complexity of the course, as well as the daily demands and requirements of the chef instructor.


If you are unfamiliar with the program, culinary arts is a multifaceted, fast-moving program that serves as an on-campus restaurant. Culinary arts can only be led by an individual or team who holds a Canadian Red Seal of trade and qualifications in cooking, has years of industry experience, and a BC teaching degree. The program requires the chef instructor to not only manage a regular classroom and perform all duties required of a teacher, but also operate and sustain a full food-service business. The business responsibilities include daily production, menu planning, food and supply ordering, catering, managing vendors, co-ordinating with CUPE staff, budgeting, food safety, WCB safety, healthy food guidelines, equipment maintenance, business licensing, health inspections, and all of the respon-sibilities that come with operating any restaurant or commercial food operation.


So what does all of this have to do with the value of small PSAs and the PSA Day?


There is rarely more than one chef instructor in a school, and, in many cases, only one chef instructor in a district. As anyone who belongs to a small PSA can attest to, it is difficult for chef instructors to find time and opportunity to collaborate with each other. Especially if a chef instructor is in a rural community. PSA Day has always been important to BC’s chef instructors, and the 2023 PSA Day was no different.

Touring the 400-year-old farmhouse that was moved from Austria to Sparkling Hills to repurpose as a restaurant.

BCCASA offers its annual October conference and AGM at different locations throughout the province every year. This is done to promote inclusion and diversity. This year’s conference was held in Vernon, BC, thanks to the vision and enthusiasm of BCCASA member Jennifer Gray. Jennifer eagerly volunteered to host and showcase all the culinary treasures and learning opportunities that come from that region of the province.


Accommodation for the conference was at Sparkling Hills Resort. This hotel was chosen as our host accommodation for many reasons: its unique staff housing facilities, its multiple kitchens, and its 400-year-old farmhouse turned restaurant. In addition, the owner’s philosophy and practice of attracting employees aligns with one of BCCASA’s annual goals: acting as a bridge to connect students with industry.


Once the host city and accommodations were established, a lot of planning and effort went into the execution of this successful PSA conference. The BCCASA conference chair relies heavily on the BCTF Professional Development Lens to ensure that speakers, tours, and activities maximize learning opportunities and potential. The goal is always to pack as much into this one weekend as possible, while at the same time keeping our conferences relevant, collaborative, and educational.


The 2023 BCCASA conference followed this tradition.

Laura Shaw, daughter of Tom and Tamra Davison and fourth-generation farmer, greeting the attendees at Davison Orchards.

At Planet Bee learning from James Nowek, son of Ed Nowek and second-generation honey and bee industry.

First, was a visit to Davison Orchards where we learned about local farming practices, the inner workings of a fourth-generation farm, and palate training with unique apple varieties. Second, we were treated to an advanced lesson at Planet Bee, where we learned about pollination, the life cycle of bees, the science behind honey production, the challenges of raising bees, and producing honey while dealing with a declining bee population. We learned about environmental changes that affect the industry and what we as educators can teach students to help protect the future bee population.


The final stop of the afternoon was at Vernon Secondary School for a student-prepared lunch that featured alternative cooking focusing on gluten-free and vegan cuisine. The meal also highlighted local agriculture and producers. After lunch, three student-led round-robin breakout spaces were cleverly organized. In the teaching kitchen, culinary arts students led participants through a local apple osmosis lab that allowed the members to cook a variety of apples using different methods, observe the results, and use the cooked apples in appropriate applications. Another breakout room was dedicated to a hands-on mocktail lesson that showcased locally sourced botanicals and creativity while keeping relevant to the current trend of non-alcoholic beverages. In a third lab, lotion bars were created using food-grade and food-safe ingredients, since many commercially made lotions cannot be used in the kitchen as they are not food-grade or food-safe. The lessons from the breakout rooms all included take-away resources that could easily be brought into classrooms around the province. Further, participants were able to experience Jennifer’s classroom management and set-up, which proved a valuable lesson. The long day of learning was completed with a dinner hosted at Parallel 50 restaurant. This was a blind tasting menu, which meant that the menu was a complete surprise and designed to promote discussions regarding local ingredients and techniques used to create a challenging palate-training lesson.

Parallel 50 chefs presenting their menu: (L to R) Executive Chef Ryan Harney, Sous Chef Jordan Bell, and Pastry Chef Noel Dizon.

Day two of the 2023 BCCASA conference had the participants stay together in the hotel. The day began with an extensive tour of the on-site staff housing facilities, its multiple kitchens, and its 400-year-old farmhouse turned restaurant. After the tours, the business of the AGM took place, which fostered new ideas and discussions among the members, including the current issue of grocery and supply price inflation. From this collaborative discussion, a list of suppliers and costs was created. Chef instructors may now use the resource as a guide when food costing and negotiating with suppliers on behalf of their programs.


Once the AGM was adjourned, the hotel chefs provided a wellness lunch that delivered a unique and inspiring menu that was completely vegan and gluten-free. These chefs were among our guest speakers who described their culinary methods and techniques to the group in preparing the lunch. Their concepts directly follow, and support our efforts to follow, provincially prescribed Healthy Schools guidelines.


The two full days of professional development ended with optional wellness breakout sessions to provide opportunities to summarize learning, collaborate on healthy food ideas and techniques, and share successes and challenges.


The annual PSA Day, and the professional development it offers, continues to be a valuable day for BC’s chef instructors. Professional development and PSAs are vitally important for all educators. Those who make the effort to be involved in PSAs should be applauded for providing the time, energy, and resources to learn and enhance their career-long practice. The BCCASA has proven that its conferences and resources are not only for those who teach the culinary arts curriculum, but also provide multiple opportunities for cross-curricular learning. Any teachers interested in food, agriculture, business, or anyone who values BCCASA’s philosophy of hands-on, inclusive, professional development for career-long learning is welcome to join BCCASA.


Join a PSA

There are over 30 PSAs in BC offering collegiality and professional development to teachers and education specialists. Visit to find your PSA.


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