Ben Kiely – Culinary Arts Chef Instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA)
Ben Kiely is Culinary Arts Chef Instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) in Vancouver, Canada. We chat to this British-born chef about the latest trends in the kitchen classroom and Canada’s culinary tradition.
Ben Kiely – Chef’s Portrait
So Ben, why did you decide to become a chef, and when?
When I was about 15 years old. Growing up in Hampton court in the south of England I got a job working in the kitchen in a local hotel and I was hooked from there.
Which culinary school did you attend? What was the experience like?
I attended Richmond culinary school in England, and it was a positive experience. I chose to do an apprenticeship course which allowed me to work and learn.
You apprenticed under celebrity chef Paul Gayler at the 5-star Lanesborough Hotel Hyde Park in London – what was your first experience of a kitchen like?
The Lanesborough was a step into the big league – so much going on so much to learn. It was truly a challenge in the beginning. I’m from quite a small town so working in central London was a real life experience in so many ways.
What was the biggest thing you learned here?
The biggest thing I learned was how to work, how to push, how to manage time and build stamina.
Is there anything you have learned during your career that surprised you or changed the way you felt about being a chef?
I have learned so much not only food but also as a person. Working in teams with people of many different nationalities opened my mind to the larger world.
Interacting with different people’s foods and cultures helped me grow, and helped me learn more about where I’m from as well. I love British and French food the most.
What are some of the techniques or concepts that your students at PICA struggle with most?
Knife skills is hard to teach in a six-month programme it’s an ongoing learning process. Also working clean/ tidy with speed are always on-going learning skills.
Have you noticed any changes in your students and what they are interested in during the years you have been at PICA?
I would say vegan and vegetable cooking is more popular, which I feel is a positive thing. The more we learn about the use of vegetables, the more of a well-rounded chef we will become.
Most of my classes are split 40% women 60% men in general. I would like to see more females in the kitchen in management positions, to be honest. It all starts with good training and hard work.
Canadian food isn’t very well known, except perhaps poutine! Does Canada have a defined culinary tradition? Would you like to see more Canadian dishes on menus? Do you teach any Canadian dishes in your classes?
Great question! My students can tell me five French dishes, five Japanese dishes, five Italian dishes, five Mexican dishes, etc, but never tell me five Canadian dishes. The situation is we have amazing fish, seafood, game, cheeses and wine. It’s teachers’ and students’ jobs to work on this; it’s exciting that we can be part of an evolving cuisine.
People moved here from all over the world and First Nations people obviously have lived here for thousands of years. Until people from all backgrounds cook the same cuisines at home it can’t be called a Canadian cuisine. We have French, British and Irish influences, for sure, and, of course, many more from around the world. So I like to say we can use international techniques with local Ingredients and eventually we will get there.
What about any unusual local ingredients?
Canadian produce can vary from province to province, however, here on the west cost, sunchokes, sea asparagus and salmon berries are a few of my favourites.
Vancouver has a lively dining scene – can you find restaurants serving all kinds of cuisine there?
Yes, certainly. Vancouver has many restaurants and we are strong in all cuisines, especially Chinese food, which is abundant here. However it can be hard to find good Mediterranean restaurants.
Ben Kiely, Culinary Arts Chef Instructor at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) in Vancouver shares his recipe for tomato and potato focaccia with basil, olive oil and spelt flour.
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