Chef Tay­lor Martin first grad­u­ate to rep­re­sent Con­estoga Col­lege at in­sti­tute in France


Chef Tay­lor Martin ap­pears re­laxed de­spite just hav­ing come off a busy eight-hour shift as a line cook at Jake’s Grill and Oys­ter House in Burling­ton. She’s com­posed be­yond her 24 years, ar­tic­u­late and gen­tly as­sertive as she shares her life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at a pres­ti­gious culi­nary in­sti­tute in France.

A 2017 grad­u­ate of Con­estoga Col­lege’s culi­nary pro­gram, Martin was the first Con­estoga stu­dent to ben­e­fit from the col­lege’s re­cent as­so­ci­a­tion with the In­sti­tut Paul Bo­cuse.

The part­ner­ship con­nects stu­dents to an an­nual four-month in­ten­sive pro­gram aimed at im­prov­ing culi­nary skills and tech­niques, gain­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of French gas­tron­omy while ab­sorb­ing the tra­di­tions of other cul­tures and shar­ing their own.

Stu­dents from a dozen coun­tries com­prised the 2017 in­take last fall. Un­der­stand­ably, Martin, who grew up in Cam­bridge, wanted to per­form well on her school’s be­half.

“Not only was I rep­re­sent­ing Con­estoga within the pro­gram, I was rep­re­sent­ing Canada, and not many coun­tries had only one stu­dent, so yes, the pres­sure was on, but it ac­tu­ally helped me per­form.”

Stu­dents lived in a dorm a five-minute walk from in­sti­tute fa­cil­i­ties, head­quar­tered in the 19th-cen­tury Château du Vivier in Écully, on the out­skirts of France’s gas­tro­nomic capital, Lyon. This made it easy to make friends among the group of 49 par­tic­i­pants.

“Every­one was in the same boat in that they were thrown into this group of peo­ple from all over the world, and we all wanted to learn about each other and each other’s cul­ture. We bonded right away,” Martin says.

Martin quickly made friends with stu­dents from Ecuador, Fin­land and Tai­wan, among oth­ers, and is plan­ning a trip to the south­ern United States to meet up with some of them later this year, with an­other

trip, to South Africa, likely in a cou­ple of years.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate pro­gram at Cameron Heights Col­le­giate in Kitch­ener, Martin took first-year chem­istry at McGill Univer­sity be­fore de­cid­ing the pro­gram was not for her. Af­ter se­ri­ous soul-search­ing, she con­cluded cook­ing was it: she’s been a kitchen helper since child­hood, so cook­ing has al­ways drawn her in­ter­est and at­ten­tion.

“A big part of that is I like to make peo­ple happy and food is one of the best ways to do that. There is also a lot of cre­ative free­dom. There are not al­ways rules you have to fol­low, and I like the flex­i­bil­ity that comes with it.” She pauses for a mo­ment and adds with a smile: “The chaos, if you will.”

For some­one born and raised in Cam­bridge, Con­estoga Col­lege was a nat­u­ral choice not just for its prox­im­ity, but also be­cause Martin had al­ways heard good things about the pro­gram.

The for­mal train­ing at Con­estoga has helped give her a leg up in a lot of ways, she says.

“There are a lot of things about the the­ory of food, cost man­age­ment, menu plan­ning, and just a gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of cook­ing and food; I would not have learned so quickly oth­er­wise. The things I took away from the course there would have taken years to learn,” she says.

Chef Gini Bechtel, who taught Martin in the tech­niques lab, found they really con­nected in one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions.

“Tay­lor is a pur­pose­ful in­di­vid­ual and you could tell she was try­ing to dis­cern what she might do in the fu­ture,” Bechtel says. “Once the Bo­cuse came up, she was able to fo­cus on that: it seemed a good mo­ti­va­tor to push her for­ward. She’s fas­tid­i­ous, metic­u­lous, want­ing to do the best job, not sat­is­fied with medi­ocre re­sults.”

On learn­ing about the op­por­tu­nity in France, Martin im­me­di­ately grasped the pos­si­bil­i­ties. “Be­ing on the cusp of grad­u­at­ing, I jumped on it: it was a now-or-never op­por­tu­nity.” Tim­ing was tight to com­plete the rig­or­ous ap­pli­ca­tion process. While not a selec­tion cri­te­rion, an affin­ity for the French lan­guage is a big ad­van­tage. Martin brushed up fast to pro­duce a re­sumé and sup­port­ing doc­u­ments in French and, once ac­cepted into the pro­gram, fig­ured out how to foot the bill. The all-in cost for the 15-week ex­pe­ri­ence was about $17,000, she es­ti­mates, roughly half of that be­ing course fees, the bal­ance go­ing to liv­ing and travel ex­penses.

“It was worth ev­ery penny,” says Martin, who took out a stu­dent loan and dipped into sav­ings to cover the bulk of the costs.

“I would tell any­one to do it, as long as they are driven enough. I don’t re­gret a sec­ond of it.”

Once in Europe, the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a va­ri­ety of places presents it­self and Martin says she took full ad­van­tage. “I did as much trav­el­ling as I could and that made the ex­pe­ri­ence so much richer.”

On the pro­fes­sional front, each week fea­tured a dif­fer­ent class, some at Ex­péri­ence, the cam­pus restau­rant, where each stu­dent also led a gas­tro­nomic lunch or din­ner ser­vice – both in the kitchen and the front of house – for a largely French clien­tele. Other classes took place at the In­sti­tut Paul Bo­cuse restau­rant in down­town Lyon.

Classes were pre­dom­i­nantly taught in French, and while the teach­ers were pa­tient, Martin said they had high ex­pec­ta­tions. “They pushed us to be more ef­fi­cient in the kitchen and really en­cour­aged us to make our plates prop­erly, to be cre­ative with them and de­velop our own per­sonal style,” she says.

Martin says she loves all kinds of food and be­ing able to try it all, get­ting her hands dirty.

“That’s part of what drew me to the pro­gram, to see world­wide cui­sine first hand. In a broader sense, it gave me a wider per­spec­tive about the way the world is, how dif­fer­ent cul­tures act and eat, and what it’s like to live in cer­tain cor­ners of the world . . . what those cul­tures are like be­hind the curtain.”

She says a fish mous­se­line stuffed with frogs’ legs, stewed in white wine cream sauce, is the one dish she made in France that lingers in her mem­ory. “It was de­li­cious.”

Martin made an im­pact as the sole Cana­dian, says Char­lotte Jac­quier, who over­saw all teach­ing at the In­sti­tute for the 2017 co­hort.

“She brought Cana­dian savoir-faire and cui­sine, her very strong per­son­al­ity and a much-ap­pre­ci­ated fem­i­nine touch to the pro­gram,” says Jac­quier, speak­ing in French.

“On a per­sonal note, I re­mem­ber she al­ways had a smile: she’s a very sen­si­tive soul with the abil­ity to bring a sense of co­he­sion and team spirit. For ex­am­ple, she cre­ated a sou­venir video for the other stu­dents.”

Martin says she pro­duced the video – fea­tur­ing clips of her col­leagues from the Al­liance pro­gram re­count­ing their favourite mem­ory of their stay in Écully – as a last-day sur­prise for the pro­gram staff.

Martin re­grets not be­ing able to meet Paul Bo­cuse, who was not very mo­bile at the time and sub­se­quently died in Jan­uary 2018. The le­gendary founder of the In­sti­tute was a prime mover in the nou­velle cui­sine movement and, in 2011, was cel­e­brated as the “Chef of the Cen­tury” by the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica.

“Wher­ever you go, peo­ple are go­ing to carry through on their own vi­sions, but they did their best to stay true to Mr. Bo­cuse’s legacy,” Martin ob­serves. “There is a real sense of pride the chefs have about liv­ing in France and work­ing un­der his name and try­ing to do right by it.”

The link to the Bo­cuse pro­gram is a valu­able one for Con­estoga Col­lege, Martin says.

“The name ‘In­sti­tut Paul Bo­cuse’ doesn’t come lightly and that is for a rea­son. It is a great way for culi­nary stu­dents, espe­cially in Canada where we are so far re­moved from that, to get a chance to go back to our roots, es­sen­tially of cook­ing, and to un­der­stand where we came from, where we’re go­ing and how to be the best cooks we can be.”

Founded al­most 30 years ago, the In­sti­tute was rec­og­nized ear­lier this year at the World­wide Hos­pi­tal­ity Awards as the best in­ter­na­tional in­no­va­tive pro­gram for Hos­pi­tal­ity, Culi­nary Arts and Food­ser­vice.

Con­estoga Col­lege is cur­rently the only Cana­dian school – and will be the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive of On­tario for the du­ra­tion of a four-year agree­ment – in Bo­cuse’s Hos­pi­tal­ity and Culi­nary Arts Al­liance, a net­work unit­ing 21 of the top ho­tel, restau­rant and culi­nary arts man­age­ment schools and uni­ver­si­ties.

Jac­quier, net­work co-or­di­na­tor for the al­liance, says they have known Chef Keith Muller, Con­estoga Col­lege’s chair of the School of Busi­ness and Hos­pi­tal­ity, for years, since he was with Ge­orge Brown Col­lege, one of the al­liance’s found­ing in­sti­tu­tions. So, in May 2017, when Muller ex­pressed an in­ter­est in hav­ing Con­estoga join the al­liance, it was an “ob­vi­ous choice,” Jac­quier says.

“We thought it the best school in the re­gion . . . a val­ued part­ner that shares our val­ues of in­no­va­tion, ex­cel­lence and en­trepreneur­ship.”

Even though the culi­nary and hos­pi­tal­ity pro­grams at Con­estoga have been run­ning 18 and 40 years re­spec­tively, that’s high praise in­deed, and a lot to live up to, given the cal­i­bre and rep­u­ta­tion of other schools in the prov­ince.

“I think it is great what we have done has been rec­og­nized,” Muller says. “The in­sti­tute did a full au­dit on the col­lege be­fore ac­cept­ing us as a part­ner and they looked at all the en­tre­pre­neur­ial stuff we do, and the gov­er­nance of the col­lege which I’m really proud of, and that’s why it is a good part­ner­ship to be with.”

Be­yond the learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents, the ad­di­tional ben­e­fits for Con­estoga Col­lege’s ex­pand­ing culi­nary and hos­pi­tal­ity pro­grams in­clude: in­ter­na­tional co-op op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents; and fac­ulty ex­changes, in­clud­ing wel­com­ing to the col­lege chefs-in-res­i­dence from the in­sti­tute and al­liance part­ners.

Even though Martin had worked at Jake’s Grill and Oys­ter House as a stu­dent, she says she re­turned af­ter grad­u­a­tion in­stead of seek­ing out a po­si­tion at a fine­din­ing es­tab­lish­ment be­cause she felt she had more to learn at that restau­rant.

“Since I knew I had a job to go back to there, I wanted to take ad­van­tage of it, learn ev­ery­thing I can be­fore tak­ing those skills with me on to big­ger and bet­ter things,” Martin says.

“I do love my job there, but it has al­ways been more of a step­ping stone. Even­tu­ally, when I have more ex­pe­ri­ence, I’d like to go off on my own, and ei­ther run a restau­rant or think about open­ing a new place. I’ll def­i­nitely be able to take some in­spi­ra­tion from what I did in France.”

Muller says he saw a marked dif­fer­ence in Martin’s con­fi­dence when she came back from the Bo­cuse pro­gram. Mark Kneblewski, man­ager of Jake’s, is also a fan.

“She’s awe­some and I’d hire her if I was ever to open my own restau­rant,” he says.

Chef Tay­lor Martin demon­strates her tech­nique cook­ing frog legs to Michael Herz dur­ing Martin’s evening as guest chef with Les Mar­mi­tons – Water­loo Re­gion.

Chef Keith Muller, Con­estoga Col­lege’s chair of the School of Busi­ness and Hos­pi­tal­ity, says he saw a marked dif­fer­ence in Tay­lor Martin’s con­fi­dence when she re­turned from study­ing in France.

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