Young chefs to whip up great pork belly recipeTuesday, September 18
The pressure to find quality employees is increasing each and every month. Maybe it’s not to the extent that we felt it in ’07 prior to the global economic meltdown, but it’s getting there. I remember that time all too well. It seemed like every business out there was hiring.
As our company continues to grow, it becomes more difficult to fill our bench of talented young hospitality people. To make matters worse, the quality of applicants seems to diminish each year.
I don’t want to come across as an old timer squawking about how it was when I was young, but today’s workforce doesn’t seem to have the work ethic, passion, or sense of pride I was raised on.
Failing to show up for work without so much as a phone call or a doctor’s note seems to be the norm.
I can count on one hand the times I have been late for work in my life, and the few times that I was, I apologized profusely, put my head down and did everything I could to make the chef forget my blunder. I don’t see that kind of fear in people today. There really isn’t the sense that they should feel fortunate they have a job rather they feel that they are entitled to the job and all of the perks that go with it without paying their dues. It makes filling the roster with great people increasingly difficult.
Thankfully though, Edmonton has one of Canada’s finest culinary programs. NAIT’s culinary arts program ranks among the best in the nation and has no problem filling their classrooms. The quality of students they graduate is second to none.
The challenge lies in the fact that they can only graduate a limited amount of students each year. With thousands of restaurants fighting for the handful of students who graduate from the program, it’s next to impossible to fill our rosters with these talented young students. To put it into perspective, I have double the amount of cook positions within our restaurant group than NAIT is capable of graduating each year.
There is an alternative though — the apprenticeship program. This path to becoming a chef seems to be falling by the wayside, and I find that so unfortunate.
Much like carpenters, plumbers, welders, electricians, and so on, we work in an industry where hands-on experience pays far greater dividends than reading text books and taking exams. A cookbook might allow you to understand the basic techniques of how to prepare risotto or make a soup, but it can’t teach you how to rely on your senses to make it taste great.
It would seem that in recent years though, this method of learning our trade has been pushed aside, as if having a diploma stating you have completed two years of culinary arts means so much more.
However, there still are some programs that are promoting this great path. One such event takes place every year in Edmonton. Not only does the event encourage apprentices, it also shines a light on Alberta’s great fare.
Feastival of Fine Chefs, an event developed by the Alberta Food Processors Association, and in its 24th year, has become one of the greatest showcases for young apprentices this province has. It takes place today, Sept. 19th, at the Shaw Conference Centre, and the evening is quite unique. Each guest will have the chance to taste the creations of a different team for each of the four courses, all of which are prepared using ingredients grown or processed in Alberta. Each table of eight guests will end up seeing 32 different dishes. During the evening, funds are raised for the Stan Ballard Apprenticeship Fund, established in 1986 to support educational activities for Alberta apprentice chefs.
Each year the chefs are given a black box of ingredients and have 24 hours to prepare a delicious four-course meal, showcasing those ingredients. This will be our fifth year participating, and we have used it as an opportunity to reward some of our most talented and committed young cooks. Most of the time menu development is left in the hands of the chef, but for this event we allow our young cooks to take the reins.
Yesterday we picked up our hampers filled with food, and before the truck left the loading dock of the Shaw Conference Centre the culinary juices were flowing with ideas of how we could bring all of these great ingredients together.
Our featured appetizer meat was pork belly and our featured entree was top sirloin butt. With those two ingredients in the forefront, we set about using the rest of the ingredients to round out our dishes. My first thought was to do a play on bacon, eggs and toast with the pork belly. I put together a braised pork belly, with a sunny side up quail egg, on brioche toast, with sriracha-orange hollandaise, but it wasn’t up to me to make the final decision. After all this was all about the apprentices. This week’s recipe showcases how I would prepare the pork belly, but you’ll have to have a ticket to tonight’s event to see what my young cooks came up with.
Braised Pork Belly
2 lb. pork belly, rind removed
2 cups soy sauce
6 cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. Chinese five spice
2 oranges, juice
2 limes, juice
3 Tbsp. sambal oelek
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 250F
Place pork belly on a baking rack in a roasting pan just big enough to fit it
Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine
Pour the marinade over the pork belly and cover with saran wrap, followed by aluminum foil, sealing tightly. The saran won’t melt, but will prevent the belly from sticking to the foil
Braise in the oven until the belly is fork tender, anywhere from 8-12 hours
Allow to cool in the liquid
When ready to serve, cut a cube of belly off, and sear until slightly crispy and serve with sticky rice
You can even slightly reduce the braising liquid and thicken it slightly with a cornstarch slurry to drizzle over the pork and rice