Centennial College's $90-million digs unveiled

By Bill Tremblay

SCARBOROUGH, Ont. — While its students
are well into their first semester at Centennial College’s new Culinary Arts
Centre, the school is beginning to introduce the public to its state-of-the-art
hospitality facility.

Planning for the $90-million facility began
about three years ago. Following two years of construction, the building opened
its doors in September and includes a 742-bed residence, classrooms, labs,
offices, a restaurant, café and conference centre.

“It feels like natural growth. Centennial has
a long history of hospitality. Some of these programs were here in 1966 when
the college started,” said Joe Baker, dean of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary
Arts. “We’ve been growing ever since then. This was just the next evolution.”

With more than 353,000 square feet of floor
area, the culinary centre is the largest construction project completed by the
college.

One of four hotel rooms that provide students with hands-on experience.

One of four hotel rooms that provide students with hands-on experience.

The Local, the 90-seat restaurant and café,
as well as the 20,000-square-foot event centre and four in-school hotel rooms
serve as hands-on learning centres that allow students to learn their trade by
serving the public.

“They’re all designed as experiential
learning operations for the students,” Baker said. “The idea is to give them
hands-on experience in the industry before they leave the college.”

Before opening the experiential centres,
students would learn their trade in a traditional classroom, located in a
former hotel near the Scarborough school.

“It was much more theoretical before,” Baker
said. “We had a much smaller-scale space. It wasn’t as live and open to the
public as it is now.”

The hospitality centre’s labs and classrooms
are also equipped with numerous audiovisual components to assist with learning.
For example, when an instructor is demonstrating a technique, cameras stream an
overhead view of the lesson to screens at each student workstation.

“We wanted to make sure the spaces
themselves were also designed with lots of digital capability,” Baker said. “If
we’re preparing people to work in the modern food and hospitality industry, we
have to ensure they’re well prepared and well versed in digital media.”

In November, Centennial held its first
public event. CENTITALIA, a partnership with Toronto’s Italian Chamber of
Commerce, brought four chefs from Italy to prepare a five-night dinner series
alongside students.

On the final night of the event, Dahyun
Choi, a third year culinary management student, worked in the kitchen with chef
Filippo Saporito, whose restaurant La Leggenda Dei Frati in Florence recently
received a Michelin star.

“Their cooking method, their plating and
their attitude in the kitchen is amazing. They’re really friendly, but strict
when they’re working with the food,” Choi said. “It’s really a rare experience
to be with a Michelin star chef.”

The fine dining experience delivered by the
Italian chefs is just one aspect of the culinary program. The café teaches
students the quick-service format, while the restaurant also serves a
market-style lunch and weekend brunch.

“We’re trying to give them exposure to all
different aspects of the restaurant industry and lots of different styles,”
Baker said. 

Each menu, designed by the school’s
executive chef and culinary team, aims to highlight the diversity found in
Scarborough’s population.

“With the name, The Local, we wanted to make
sure we did something that represents the community,” Baker said. “The food is
very internationally inspired. It represents the diversity of Scarborough with
lots of different flavour profiles, and we source ingredients from Ontario.”

The centre currently has about 1,000
students enrolled in hospitality programs. The new building will allow the
college to grow its hospitality cohort by 100 per cent.

“We are growing to meet the demands of the
Canadian hospitality and tourism industry,” Baker said.

“We’re growing so we can prepare enough
skilled workers to support this huge industry in Canada.”