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This program has been approved by the Private Training Institution Branch (PTIB) of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training.
What is covered, How, and Why. In this course we will cover an extensive array of techniques and work with incredible amount of ingredients. Some of what we will cover includes:
- Garde Manger (knife skills, salads, canapes)
- Stocks & Soups
- Art of Sandwiches
- Grains and Starches
- Legumes and Soy Products
- Eggs and Poultry
- Fish and Crustaceans
- Plating Techniques
- Menu Design
- Food Costing/Starting a Business
- Food Truck Project
- Knife Sharpening
- Sous Vide
- Modernist Techniques
- Pasta/Dumplings/Asian Noodles
- Plant-based Cuisine
- Pig/Duck/Chicken Butchery
- French Classics
- Italy & Spain
- Middle East, India, Latino and Asian Cuisines
- Pastry Fundamentals
- Bread Fundamentals
- Classic and Modern Sauces
- Plant-based cooking
- Nurtional principles of balanced cooking and eating
- Butter/Cheese Making
- Wine Tasting
- Fair Kitchen Practices
- Red Seal Level 1 Theory/Practical Exams*
- Practical Quizzes
- Creating Your Portfolio
- Weekly Student Menu Development Projects
- Stages at local restaurants/hotels/catering companies
- 10-Course Practical Mid-Term
- 12-Course Final Practical Project
*Culinary students with a BC address qualify for Level I of their Red Seal after completing a practical, theory exam and 1000 industry hours (the course contributes 300 hours towards this). Canadian residents or those with Permanent Resident status may also qualify for a government grant.
First off, we start with a class size of no more than 24 with at least three instructors on the floor (more on special days – menu developments, exams, etc).
Our curriculum covers the essential techniques required to transform ingredients responsibly, professionally, and creatively with the tools of the kitchen. And it also adjusts every semester to reflect changing food sensibilities, values, and artistry. But a curriculum is like a script – vital as its content may be, its context and delivery will tell the bigger story. And while we are the authors of our curriculum, we allow our students to participate in how it’s told. Many of our days are multi-themed, requiring the hands and mind to multi-task various learning opportunities. Welcome to a profession of infinite interpretations. Every basic skill, technique, dish, and theme written in our curriculum and performed in our kitchens answers the following:
- Why is this topic, technique, or dish being covered? What does it teach? How does it relate to other content in the curriculum and current industry trends?
- What is the science, history, and artistry behind it?
- How many different ways can it be made? And how does it best serve a certain type of kitchen business model? Why does one chef-instructor prefer method A and another method B? What are the pros and cons? How does this relate to a professional kitchen?
- How can the student put their own spin on this? And what can the class learn from the variations?
How You Work
Dish execution is generally done individually although students are paired at a a stove and share a double sink. Students have their own pots, pans, and other tools at their station. We have a maximum of 16 students in each class with three instructors on the floor.
As well, there are six different instructors mentoring you – each with their own areas of specialty and background.
A Typical Day
- Instructors come in about 90 minutes before class starts to set up the day’s objectives.
- We start on time, right on the dot. Each day focuses on a specific theme with specific objectives.
- The objectives are typically covered through three to four dishes (we refer to them as practices rather than strict recipes). We demo and cover theory at the same time (we have no classrooms lined with desks) then students flow into the kitchen and execute the dish. They then come back to the demo/dining area to taste and get feedback. We flow the same way through the next two dishes.
- Yes, there is cleaning, lots of prep, note-taking, team communication, dancing within one’s station, questions and answers – all the necessary hands-on and thinking tasks that make great cooking work. Students change partners weekly. There are some preparations which are performed individually, but otherwise teaming up allows us to cover more content in a day.
Not so typical days
We end many weeks with a Menu Development Day where the students can exercise their creative skills applying the learned objectives of the week. They have freedom to play with a wide range of ingredients and plating styles, so long as the technique is never compromised.
This is perhaps the most intensive and comprehensive practical exam of any school. It covers 2 weeks of planning and experimentation, starts with an individual menu development and eventually evolves to a team effort to create a 12-course tasting menu to an audience over two evenings. Students describe this as a highlight of their course, even grads remember the experience as a key stepping stone. In many ways, we built the curriculum backwards, starting with an ambitious apex and setting the students up from day one to achieve beyond their expectations. And it works! Our colleagues invited to these finals are often in awe of the students’ achievements.
Frequently Asked Questions
What requirements are expected of me?
First and foremost, we look for smart, diligent learners. The majority of our students have post-secondary education and a penchant for learning and research, are intellectually disciplined to come to class mentally ready, take good notes, and tune in to the theory. But post-secondary education is not a requirement. Being a mature, focused, and keen learner certainly is.
Secondly, we look for a solid work ethic – this is a demanding field. We expect you to be self-disciplined and focused for long periods of time. We take attendance seriously (please read application) …just as our industry colleagues do. Missing a day in a professional kitchen puts your team at a distinct disadvantage. It’s no different here.
And perhaps just as important, we look for mature, considerate human beings. Everyone is different, coming from various backgrounds and experience levels, and not every day will be a perfect day. We foster the virtues of patience and mindful communication, something this industry can use more of. We’re not a “Yes Chef!” kind of school, but instead take a higher road when it comes to dealing with complex human interactions and its challenges.
Do I need industry experience?
No, we are a school after all, not a restaurant. And it’s not as if you were born yesterday and are new at the concept of food and cooking. We can do a lot with your obvious passion for food, but we do expect you to fully understand and appreciate the intensity and work ethic of this profession. If you do have industry experience, that’s great, but we expect you to clean the slate and learn with a completely open mind. Often we’ve had to work harder with students who were convinced they knew better.
What can I expect from my instructors?
Foremost, we are committed to the most important part of your education: our attention and support. Our low student-teacher ratio affords that. Being owners as well, it affords going the extra mile, and this is what separates us from any school model.
We talk to you as an adult and peer, never down to you. The allows us to best support you through inevitable mistakes. Some other chef-instructors emphasize the “chef” in their title and the “realities” of their industry experience. We emphasize the “instructor” in ours and the reality of your education. This is about you!
Finally, Northwest is a student-driven school. We elicit your feedback and use the information to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a practice many smart chefs are adopting in their industry kitchens to maximize intellectual and creative output. It’s also what smart businesses – and especially schools – do.
What are some interesting stats about Northwest and its student body?
Average student age = 26.5
% of females/males: 55/45 (historically)
% of international students = 25%
% of students with post-secondary education = 75%
% of career changers = 65%
% of curriculum that changes term to term: 10%
% of attrition: 4% historically (usually due to personal reasons)
% of students who successfully graduate: 95%
% who find work in the industry: never heard of a student who could not find work.
% who still work in the industry years after graduation: too difficult to determine, but this is a legitimate question, as this is an industry that provides opportunity but does not do a great job sustaining its own people. Which is why we encourage our students to take an entrepreneurial approach to their career, and this has proven to be effective in encouraging our grads to take advantage of their first few years in the industry and always plan for “owning” your craft one day. The other thing to consider is how to define “the industry”. We have had students who works as farmers, in education, health and nutrition, in wineries, bed and breakfasts, and run their own successful food photography/social media businesses. To us, the industry of food is changing – even though it may not fit under a “traditional” model.
Do you teach business management principles?
Yes, we formally teach the fundamental math of a food business, and throughout the course we do creative exercises which address the parts and mechanisms of smart business sustainability. Moreover, we showcase the school itself as a solid and forward-thinking business model, from inception to evolution, often referring to our in-house business practices. We formally discuss how to plan and execute your business idea one day, bringing to your attention things books don’t talk about, like mechanical engineers, city hall codes, social media, and what connections to make before signing a lease. As owners, we make such information more transparent and digestible, and make ourselves available at any point to discuss your ideas. Many of our successful grads with their own businesses have done just that.
Why is your program shorter than most professional culinary schools?
Firstly, our kitchen design allows us to get more performed in a day than most schools, and we put more instructor bodies on the floor to achieve this. Second, we put our students to work on Day 1 and treat them as highly-focused mature adults – not “kids” – who can absorb and achieve an intensive pace. The reality is that this profession IS intensive, requiring the ability to absorb, adjust, and integrate quickly. In other words, we reflect this intensity, which is why focus, attendance, and commitment to your education is vital to your success moving forward.
Is the program ITA approved for Red Seal Level I
Yes. Culinary students qualify for Level I of their Red Seal after completing a practical and theory exam. The exams are written and practical performed at our school AFTER graduation at an assigned date. And we can then sponsor our grads for their hours in the industry (anywhere in the world) towards their Level II & III.
Why don’t you have a restaurant?
Simple. Our industry colleagues do. Why pay full tuition for what you can and ought to be learning in real industry surrounded by people who show you serious craft? We connect our students in various professional kitchens for after-class work observations (on a volunteer basis). This begins your networking, your understanding of various styles of industry kitchens, and these observations count towards Red Seal hours. We do, however, convert our school into a “restaurant” setting for the practical final exams, where students create and serve a 12-course tasting menu served to their guests and our colleagues. Yes, 12!
Where do your ingredients come from and what value systems do you subscribe to?
A lot of our produce is organic, sourced from places such as Glorious Organic Farms and Barntson Farms. We source local when possible, and often purchase the old-fashioned way: by shopping ourselves. We apply a strict total utilization and waste management program to maximize our privilege with these ingredients. Any food leftover from our daily practice is used in house for our other programming or donated to our neighbours in Mount Pleasant.
What styles of cuisines will I be learning?
The range is quite global: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian, classical French, Indian, etc.. The common language is techniques, but we also delve into modern and ancient practices. What characterizes Northwest cuisine, or its approach to food, is its open-mindedness to seek and learn and execute new styles regularly.
Do you cover wine?
Yes, but only at an introductory level. We do taste a few throughout the term. And we taste some local beer too.
What are some areas you cover which are not typically covered by most schools?
Over the years our students have initiated practices which we as culinary instructors had not considered, let alone been taught by our past. Fermentation has become a big topic of interest, Sandor Katz, the fermentation guru, spoke and demonstrated at our school years ago and we still make his kimchi and many of our own fermented and preserved products. And there are skills we have discovered which give students a greater advantage moving forward. For example, encouraging more precise drawing to express ideas, use of media to expedite demos, open discussion of less-than-fair industry practices, video projects, how to stay healthy in a profession that taxes the body, simple yoga poses and stretches to mitigate back, knee, and shoulder pain, and discussing the food experience after it is swallowed (over 40 nutrition practitioners have graduated from Northwest over the years).
Can I work while going to school?
Yes, but due to the intensive nature of the program we HIGHLY recommend no more than 20 hours per week, and depending on our assessment of your application, none at all. Leaving learning behind makes no sense to your educational investment.
Where is the best area to live in Vancouver?
We are very centrally located in a residential area (known as Mount Pleasant) where many students from all schools live. We are also very easily accessible from any point in the city. For those coming out of town, we recommend finding an apartment to live nearby the school. Keep in mind Vancouver is considered an expensive city for rent so, depending on the time of year, this could impact where you live.
Are you a professionally designated institution?
Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver is a designated institution, certified by the Private Training Institutions Branch.
Other Professional Programs
Professional Pastry/Bread Diploma
Intense, 15 week full-time professional program focusing on precision, science, artistry, classic preparations, and modern interpretations.
One Year Culinary & Pastry/Bread Diploma
Includes both the professional culinary and pastry programs, plus a 480 hour industry Co-op. For those seeking a broader set of skills and honing them with real industry experience with our guidance.
Such a great school! Amazing instructors and great curriculums. Absolutely no regrets taking the one year program.
I chose Northwest because of their forward-thinking orientation, their conscientiousness in regards to where food comes from, and the intimate atmosphere (high student-to-teacher ratio). It’s evident that the instructors deeply care about their craft and are committed to the growth of their students. Conversation ranged from the technical aspects of producing good food, to the environmental and social implications of it. Further, Northwest managed a rather seamless integration between the learning aspect and practice. I highly recommend this school to anyone looking to pursue the culinary arts.
Coming from America where there are plenty of top culinary schools to pick from, my top choice is Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. Tuition is extremely affordable, and most important of all, the instructors are top notch and they truly care about us like a family. For the foodies out there, they also offer phenomenal cooking classes. I can’t recommend this place enough.
To put it simply, choosing to study at NWCAV was easily one of the best decision I have ever made. I didn’t fully understand how much I had gained until I began working in the industry. My skills and knowledge are a cut above the rest (pun intended). An ethical guidance is provided throughout your education which has profound value considering our ever changing relationship with food. The instructors and staff (Lena) are invaluable. These are my people and I will forever be indebted to them.
As a mature student, changing careers this late in the game seemed very daunting. After meeting with chef Tony, I knew I was on the right path. With chefs with a variety of backgrounds, they all bring something different to the table, which ensures a more, well rounded learning experience. While the program was challenging, I felt supported, encouraged and knew I had made the right decision coming to Northwest. Do I recommend NWCAV? I do, wholeheartedly!