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Cooking made special

A senior-high foods class has students honing their culinary skills and learning to appreciate sharing the fruits of one's labour with others at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School in Baker Lake.

Jonathan (Joco) Tootoo, left, and Shanae Piercey are ready to create works of art in the form of bacon cheese burgers during a cooking class at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School in Baker Lake on Nov. 22, 2018. Photo courtesy Craig Vincent
Jonathan (Joco) Tootoo, left, and Shanae Piercey are ready to create works of art in the form of bacon cheese burgers during a cooking class at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School in Baker Lake on Nov. 22, 2018. Photo courtesy Craig Vincent

The class ended up in the teaching hands of Craig Vincent, who takes an educator's pride in watching students exceed expectations.

And the path Vincent took to the class was almost as challenging as baking the perfect pie crust.

Vincent said he had an assignment change two years ago that led to him taking on the senior high foods program, which he teaches again this year along with Grade 10 and Grade 11 art and computers.

He said his first degree was in fine arts and his second in education, before he decided to head back to school at the age of 33 to tackle programmer/analyst with a specialty in networking.

"I moved here in 2003 in anticipation of the new school, which opened the following year," said Vincent.

"I built its network and was network administrator, IT computer teacher and art teacher for 13 years until the Government of Nunavut came in with its CBN network system.

"I still manage and maintain CSN on the student's side.

"They call me a man for all seasons. A true renaissance man."

Vincent said students in the foods class are having fun and cooking up a storm.

He said a number of efficient routines were established early in the class and everything runs like clockwork.

"The students have a positive class and we share quite a bit of the food.

"We'll cook bacon and give it away to anyone in the school who might be hungry."

Students in the class are divided almost equally between male and female and everyone works together to succeed.

Vincent took student Seth Perkison to the 2017-2018 Skills Nunavut competition and he came away with a bronze medal in the cooking category.

He said even more impressive was the fact Perkison went into the competition at the last minute with very little preparation.

"There's a guy who did high school foods, got involved and turned out to be pretty darn good at it," said Vincent.

"I used to do Skills Nunavut years ago and was actually on its board for five years.

"I was more into information technology (IT) at the time and brought Bobby Tagoona – who did web-page design and graphic design – to three Skills Canada national competitions.

"They invited him back as a delegate and he actually met with the big wigs to discuss how to improve the Skills Canada program."

Vincent, who also majored in photography, said he blanketed two whiteboards in the school kitchen with pictures of dishes the students prepare.

He said the boards are covered in pictures and are often great for starting a conversation.

"It's by no means everything, but it's a good selection of what we do and the kids often look at it and ask to do a certain dish again.

"It's almost become a word wall – one of the techniques they use in English for the levels of literacy.

"We do everything from white rolls to ginger chicken and vegetable stir fries and most things in-between."

Vincent pushes altruism a lot in the kitchen, so students often work quite hard on something only to give it all away.

He said students don't get to eat all of what they make, nor do they get to take it home.

"But I'll have something like Muffin Monday, on which they get to take home everything they make," said Vincent.

"On Fridays we'll bake 300 cookies and give them out to students in junior high and they're gone within minutes.

"The dynamics of the groups have changed in a totally positive way during the past two years. The kids work well together and leave that place spotless at the end of a 90-minute class.

"I kind of wish people could be a fly on the wall and see what happens every day – students in a new context, out from the desk with no books in their hands and in an environment where they're learning and doing heuristically through role modelling and working together seriously for a common purpose but, at the same time, having fun, laughing and carrying on."

Vincent said it's okay that some students aren't into altruism, but the majority of them are.

He said some kids have even taken to calling him Chef Craig because he presents himself in a white coat and chef's hat for class.

"I love it when someone comes to class, tells me they made this or that on the weekend and the kids ate it all.

"Staff members and other people have sampled what we were giving away and then asked me for the recipe, so it's not only kids who love a lot of what we make.

"The big thing for me is giving it all away, watching people eat, having people ask for a recipe and the politeness of it all.

"It's cool."