Karen Wortman is the Holland College Culinary Bootcamp coordinator. Wortman is very humbled to work with so many renowned chefs and loves the opportunity to interact with bootcamp guests from all over the world. She claims its not easy going to work at an award winning experience, in a world class facility situated on the water, with an abundance of authentic island food at her fingertips, and an opportunity to share this creation with all demographics of “foodies.” Frankly, we don’t believe her, she may have put it best when she said that “someone has to do it.”
How do the Culinary Boot Camps you offer at The Culinary Institute of Canada give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Prince Edward Island?
Today most Islanders are descendants of Europeans; however, PEI’s first residents were the Mi’kmaq who first lived here about 2000 years ago. French explorers were the first Europeans to visit and settle the Island. Jacques Cartier described the Island as “…the fairest land ’tis possible to see!” The land here is rich, producing a bounty of fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Our waters teem with fish, as well as lobster, oysters, and other shellfish. Ask almost anyone in the world where the best mussels come from, and they’ll tell you: Prince Edward Island. Our farmers and fishermen provide the ingredients and our award-winning chef’s turn those fresh ingredients into culinary masterpieces.
It’s a small island that was instrumental in Canada becoming one nation in 1867 and is now currently promoted by food journalists across the world as a food lover’s paradise. From our boastful seafood, award winning cheeses, red soil, PEI potatoes, unique culinary experiences and thirst-quenching wines the Island is a foodies dream. Our culinary experiences recapture the essence of earlier settlers in PEI by bringing food from farm to table. With featured experiences like Seafood 101, Local Flavours and Kids R’ Kookin’, the Holland College Culinary Bootcamps, allow our world renowned chefs to showcase and share these fantastic, island-made products, to our visitors, locals, and anyone that enjoys delicious culinary creations. Through recipes, pairings, interacting with locals, and our hands-on experiences, we open our world-class facility, The Culinary Institute of Canada, to give these “foodies” an experience they will always remember.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
Starting in 2008 as a pilot project, Holland College Culinary Bootcamps were developed in conjunction with the provincial Department of Tourism’s mandate to promote culinary experiences on Prince Edward Island. Kicking off this new project with 10 themed, full-day and half-day bootcamps, the concept took off like wildfire and instantly became a “must-do” experience in Prince Edward Island.
The Culinary Institute of Canada (CIC) is known primarily as a first-rate teaching school for hundreds of students. The success of the inaugural bootcamps gave the CIC the opportunity to build in this reputation, showcasing the state-of-the-art facility while providing bootcamp visitors with a unique, hands-on culinary adventure.
Over the past eight years, through marketing, blogs, television appearances and having our Island Flavours experience named one of the top Canadian Signature Experiences from the Canadian Tourism Commission has allowed us to reach many food lovers including; locals, corporate groups and visitors from every part of the world. The use of our state-of-the-art kitchens and the one-on-one interaction with renowned, award-winning chefs provides guests with a high-end experience. In fact, many of our bootcampers return regularly!
Each year we expand our themed experiences, not only to showcase the skills and talents of our chefs, but also to widen our demographic and give our attendees the options they are looking for. Since 2008, we have gone from offering 10 themed experiences to over 40 bootcamps that range anywhere from a two hour demos to full day and week-long summer kids camps.
What is one detail of the Culinary Boot Camps that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Over the past few years we have noticed many more food trends, food lifestyle changes, dietary restrictions, and food allergies appear. Though many may see this as a challenge, we want to make sure all those that wish to attend our experience are treated equally and get to savour the fruits of their labour. If we are aware of any of these restrictions ahead of time, we do our best to accommodate these attendees while continuing the level of experience for all those in attendance. Though some may not even realize this extra step has been taken, the ones that do, appreciate it greatly!
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
The passion that is put into our experiences comes straight from the heart of our chefs! With so many “foodie” shows, blogs and websites, it’s easy to find multiple options to choose from. However, Prince Edward Island is unlike any other food destination and will provide you with an array of distinctive flavors that will never be forgotten. The opportunity for each guest to interact with experienced master chefs, locals and other guests from all over the world that have the same passion for food that you do, makes these bootcamps a true, island experience. Our chefs do their due diligence to create authentic recipes and include local island flavors displaying that our love for the culinary world goes beyond the marketing and promotions. Whether you’re at the beginner level or a schooled chef, our experience will have you walking away with some new skills you won’t get from watching your television or tablet, and a new passion and appreciation for food.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Experiential travel would be the obvious choice here and seeing this as a trend puts a huge smile on our face. However, seeing things like: multigenerational travel, more domestic travel and cultural diversity are all trends that help us grow our product and need to take into consideration in order to attract the largest demographic we can. From offering kids camps, adult experiences, authentic cuisine, and multiple time variation experiences, this allows the traveler (near or far) many options when visiting Prince Edward Island and considering a culinary bootcamp.
What sets The Culinary Institute of Canada’s Boot Camps apart from other cooking classes?
One of the first things to come to mind would have to be the location of the experiences. The Culinary Institute of Canada has provided culinary and hotel and restaurant management training since 1983, and is regarded by many as the premiere culinary school in Canada. Students are drawn from around the world to the institute, where they have the opportunity to enjoy the unique cultural experience of Prince Edward Island and Atlantic Canada while at the same time developing the necessary skills to launch a successful career in the food and hospitality industry.
Under the guidance of world class chef instructors and learning managers, students learn to prepare and serve meals of the highest quality in the kitchens of the Lucy Maud Dining Room, an exclusive operational restaurant which seats 80 people, and in the Montgomery Cafeteria, which offers banquet facilities for up to 400 people.
If that doesn’t sell you, maybe the fact that the Canadian Tourism Commission named our Island Flavours Culinary Bootcamp one of the top Canadian Signature Experiences would be another great reason to come and experience it for yourself! Oh, and let’s not forget that the Culinary Institute of Canada is nestled right on the water in front of one of the most beautiful views the island has to offer. While our guests could be outside grilling up a feast, they might take a moment to watch the enormous cruise ships saunter right by as they prepare to dock just a short minutes’ walk away.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Talk to the locals! Those that travel to Prince Edward Island will find out very quickly that Islanders are very friendly, approachable and easy to talk to (sometimes it’s hard for us to stop!) They truly are the experts when it comes to the area, their authentic experiences and storytelling are things you just can’t make up!
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Listening to our guests! During the experience and after you’ve left our kitchens we like to gather your feedback. The only way to get generate repeat guests is to give them what they want! From improving our current themed experiences to adding in new and adventurous culinary flavours, we continue to grow each year by enhancing our culinary experiences through the suggested feedback of our guests and current food trends.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Constant involvement in each of our bootcamps to the point where we ourselves are immersed in the experience. We are always viewing our experiences through the eyes of our guests. Stepping back and looking at the experience from guests perspective allows you to take everything into consideration. From walking through the front door of your facility to the final meal, paying attention to small details allows us to really know our product which makes selling the experience all the more personal.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Let’s rewind about 4 years….
Carol was travelling from Newfoundland, specifically to attend a Holland College Culinary Bootcamp in Prince Edward Island. Firstly, to have someone travel the distance they do, to take part in this experience, is a compliment in itself but the smile and excitement that day, on Carol’s face, showed us that she was having the time of her life and this reaction alone, something so simple, speaks volumes to our team and the product we’re delivering. The most impactful part of this story was receiving an email from Carol’s husband, who wasn’t even there that day, to express his gratitude. It was the icing on the cake and confirmed our assumptions were correct.
“I just got off the phone with an overwhelmed, happy, tearful, and appreciative – and did I say happy, Carol who was made to feel more special then she thought she could ever feel!!!! I so sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating an outstanding culinary experience for her. . I was on the phone with Carol for more than hour listening to her talk about how truly special her experience was and how you made her feel so a part of her learning experience. She talked about how much she was taught and learned from some awesome people. I wish I was better at trying to capture Carol’s bewilderment of a truly life altering experience. She talks about memories, food flavors, awesome information, awesome individuals, fantastic food, she will never be able to thank you enough ….from a very, very, very appreciative husband … hugs, warm thoughts and gratitude beyond what I can express.~ Gerry.”
This is just one quick story of the 1000’s of attendees that have entered our kitchens and we can’t wait to showcase and teach thousands more what this culinary world has to offer.