“I’m there to pump some tires and say this is an amazing career”
During his upcoming week as NAIT's Hokanson Chef in Residence, David Hawksworth says he’ll emphasize to students the value of a culinary education.
“I never went to culinary school. I’m very impatient and I just wanted to work,” says the Vancouver chef and restaurateur, who will be at Main Campus April 8 through 12. “I wanted to have a great restaurant here in Vancouver, so I thought, ‘I’ll just go to work for people that I think are really good and I’ll learn that way.’”
Hawksworth did go to Vancouver Community College for a brief cooking apprenticeship at the urging of one of his early bosses. But in retrospect, he thinks he would have benefitted from a more extensive culinary education.
“Things have worked out for me, but it might have been easier on a lot of people I worked around if I had gone to school first,” he adds with a laugh.
"It might have been easier on a lot of people I worked around if I had gone to school first."
Hawksworth, who now employs about 350 people at his Vancouver restaurants (Hawksworth, Nightingale and Bel Café) and catering operation, supports young chefs with a culinary competition and scholarship fund he started in 2013. The winner gets $10,000 and an apprenticeship or “stage” at a restaurant of his or her choice, which Hawksworth’s team will arrange.
His hope as NAIT's 11th Chef in Residence, a program that began in 2009, is to inspire and encourage students. “I’m there to pump some tires and say this is an amazing career. If I can inspire anybody or share some ideas or talk about my experiences and that invigorates them to do great things, I’m all for that.”
If students want to come and work with him later, all the better, he adds.
“I’m on a recruiting drive. There’s lots of opportunity to come [to Vancouver] and see what we do, and we encourage that as much as possible.”
David Hawksworth on …
What makes a great dish – “At the core of it, it has to be delicious. It has to be the right size and it has to leave you wanting more.”
The most overrated food trend – “Sous-vide is a tricky one. It has some good applications but some people like to do 80% of their menu that way and it’s just not on. Doing an old school braise on a lamb shank wins over sous-vide every time.”
Food trend he’s most excited about – “Organic, small farm, wild. We’re trying to get our own farm going [on a couple of acres outside Vancouver]. I’d love to be able to grow our own tomatoes and beans and carrots – that makes my mouth water. I can’t make Costco vegetables taste anywhere near as good as the stuff that’s being grown on a small, local farm.”
What young chefs need to do to succeed – “You have to put yourself out there to make it happen and create your own luck. It comes down to being completely obsessed with what you’re doing.”