“People are a lot more sophisticated now about food and it’s great for us,” Tom Filippou says.
The head of the President’s Choice Cooking School, Filippou is in charge of dozens of chefs teaching hundreds of classes in Loblaws and Superstore locations in six provinces, and he’s seen his customers evolve in the decade-plus that he’s been working for the school.
“Being a chef is exciting because I can remember the days when you’d be showing people balsamic vinegar and how to use it and they weren’t sure what it was. We’ve really come a long way — you can expose people to some really exciting products.”
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PCCS offers classes and camps for kids and “dinner parties” to help teens learn kitchen skills, but their adult classes reveal an impressive range of cuisines and specialties that underlines Filippou’s pleased observation about general culinary knowledge. Based around Loblaws’ network of stores all over the country, the sessions are inexpensive — ranging from $30 to $45 — and focus on everything from knife handling and pastry making to greens and grains, and focus on regional cooking, entertaining, ethnic foods and building on basic kitchen skills.
Instructors are restaurant and hotel chefs or food writers, and can include celebrity chefs such as Anna Olson (in Ontario) or Michael Smith (in Halifax.)
“With their tight schedules, it’s a real honour to have them come teach for us,” Filippou says. “I think customers really appreciate it.”
On April 1 in Toronto’s Bayview Village, for instance, 20-year cooking veteran Rohitha Fernando will be teaching a course on Dim Sum basics, while two nights before in a Charlottetown Atlantic Superstore, Stephen Hunter of the Victoria Village Inn will have taught a Chinese cooking class. Prospective instructors will be tried out with quick demonstration classes called What’s For Dinner, whose $10 fee will be returned to each student as a store gift card.
“It’s really a testing ground for our chefs,” Filippou explains.
“We want to make sure they have the skills, but we really want to see that their presentation skills are very good also, because it is about entertainment and keeping a captive audience.”