Passion is the secret ingredient in any great food,” says Chris Squire. And it’s a given that passion is also the secret ingredient in any great teacher. Spend some time chatting with Squire and you realize he is equally passionate about good food and teaching others about it, particularly young people.
Squire is a highly respected chef, caterer, and culinary educator who has been part of the London restaurant scene for more than four decades. He’s taught culinary skills for more than twenty years, principally at Sir George Ross Secondary School, teaching his students not just cooking skills but also educating them about healthy food and nutrition and the ill effects of a poor diet on both mental and physical health.
While the classes that Squire teaches are focused on chef training, as the head of the culinary program he also oversees the butchers, the bakers and the daily lunch makers — and Sir George Ross is the only high school in the province with the facilities to teach that broad range of skills, hands on, says Squire. “We have a full butcher shop. Local farmers will bring in whole cows and sheep, and we will butcher and wrap the meat. We also have a full commercial bakery, and we make everything from scratch, from breads to desserts.”
Part of Squire’s intention is to replicate the experience that students would have in a real commercial kitchen, so students in the program come in at 8 a.m. every school day and have to have a multiple food item menu, all made from scratch, ready to serve to all students in the school during lunch periods, which begin at 11 a.m. daily. Before Christmas, the culinary students prepared a turkey dinner for 200. The students also prepare food regularly for a number of church groups that provide free meals for individuals and families in need. The program charges for the cost of food, but not for the labour.
Outside of the classroom, when he’s not catering or hosting culinary vacations at Villa Al Boschiglia in Tuscany, Squire teaches cooking classes at two local kitchen shops — Kiss the Cook and Jill’s Table. He also delivers individualized cooking lessons in people’s homes, and during the summer he can be found in the kitchen at Red Tail Golf Course in Port Stanley, where he is head chef in what he describes as “a little jewel of a restaurant.”
Squire’s love affair with food goes back to his high school years, when he first started working in the restaurant industry. Back then, he thought of cooking as his meal ticket to get through university, graduate studies, and eventually teachers’ college. But when he graduated and found there was a surplus of teachers, his plans for a career in education were put on the back burner. He went back to cooking, and spent twenty years at Auberge du Petit Prince before closing the restaurant in 1997 (The name was revived by new owners a few years ago). Throughout those years, he took on a teaching role working with apprentices in the restaurant. “It’s important to mentor the generation that is coming behind us,” he says.
It was an invitation from fellow foodie, baker Rob Chick, that got Squire involved in teaching in the culinary program at Ross. “As soon as I saw the students, it was a transformative experience. I found it so compelling,” says Squire. “Here were kids who had had such little academic success because they are visual and kinetic learners. Suddenly they were in a school working with their hands, and they found something they excelled at. Ross is a very special place to teach — the spotlight rarely shines on these kids, but it should.”
“These are students who have a variety of challenges in their lives,” says Squire. “It’s important for them to find work that is self-sustaining. When they leave, they are ready to go into the job market as a line cook or other entry-level work in the hospitality industry. There is no shortage of jobs in service professions, and never has been.”
At the time this went to print, Squire was concerned about the future of the culinary program at Sir George Ross, as it was one of the schools targeted for closure by administrators at the Thames Valley District School Board. “Ross is almost a boutique school,” he says. “I don’t think it’s possible to create this very special environment in a larger context.”
He notes that there is a movement to introduce culinary classes in other schools across the city, and for the most part he thinks that’s a wonderful idea. “Clearly there is an awareness that culinary is a growth area in public education. Cooking is part of our communal patrimony — it’s knowledge that everyone should share,” he says.
“The thing I notice when I do cooking classes outside of Ross is that there is a whole generation who doesn’t know how to cook. Young women in their twenties don’t have the skills and knowledge that they would have learned in the old Home Economics classes. Food is a central part of everyday life — how can it not be important?”
Kym Wolfe is freelance writer based in London.