Cook training back on, students hope to be ready for 'Christmas rush'

A training program for entry-level cooks on P.E.I. is resuming this month after being on pause since March.

The free training program is offered by the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island and the Culinary Institute of Canada and is funded by Skills P.E.I. The goal is to train cooks to work in Island kitchens and help restaurants fill their labour gaps.

"This program was started because industry was crying for more help," said Kim Smith with the tourism association. 

"They needed a lot more help in the kitchen, whether it was prep cooks, line cooks, assistance within the kitchen, there was a massive shortage."

Hitting pause

A cohort of 20 participants started in February and were about three weeks into their program when the pandemic struck P.E.I. and the program was halted. 

Smith said they now have permission to resume the training, though only 11 of the participants will be returning. The cohort can have up to 15 within their COVID requirements.

"Most of them weren't able to return because they were able to seek full-time employment, which is a great reason to not return to training. So we do have 11 from the original group that will be returning, and then we are looking for four more bodies to make it 15," she said.

"The Culinary Institute of Canada, unfortunately, wasn't able to open to their students right away because of the amount of international students that they had, so because of that the facility is vacant, so we're able to use their kitchen."  

Program participants typically complete their internship in an Island restaurant during the Burger Love rush, but will instead be interning during the lead-up to the holiday season.

The good thing is a lot of people on P.E.I. are very resilient — Kim Smith, TIAPEI

"There's always a Christmas rush, both in restaurants as well as catered events in hotels," Smith said. "Those aren't going to be probably as highly attended as they have in the past, but there still will be a need."

Restaurants which take on students are eligible for a subsidy and only have to cover 25 per cent of the individual's wages.

Smith said that despite COVID-19, Islanders have always found a way to be resourceful. 

"Restaurants are looking at different methods. You take your Nimrods for Burger Love, where they have opened up a drive-thru facility," she said. 

"The good thing is a lot of people on P.E.I. are very resilient. We can come up with different methods, different strategies to still function and still be able to operate."

She said the ultimate goal of the program is to see all 15 students get jobs once they graduate.

The program resumes Sept. 28 and runs until Dec. 9.

More from CBC P.E.I.