Standing the Heat: NAIT Boot Camp

NAIT’s summer culinary and pastry boot camps not only teach good culinary skills, they replicate the long days and hard work of a professional kitchen. Blair Lebsack gives us the instructor’s point of view, followed by grad Lori Matheson on her experience.

Chef Blair Lebsack, an instructor at the 2011 boot camps, finds what surprises students the most about camp is the equipment, such as the Rational ovens with crackling cycle. “It knows to raise and lower temperature to get the outside crisp and the inside moist and flavourful,” says Blair.

There is a lot of cool equipment at camp, both hi-tech and low — immersion circulators, cryovac units and plenty of pots and pans.

The second thing that surprises students? “The amount of work. It’s a full day from 9am-6pm. They have to produce something if they want to eat,” says Blair.

What surprised Blair the most? “How well-educated people are. We had doctors, lawyers, people with busy schedules taking a whole week to come here and learn culinary skills.

“What a great industry we’re in, we’re attracting people who could probably afford their own chefs. They want to know where things come from, how to buy good food and prepare it properly.

“It’s a lot of fun.”

Boot camp student Lori Matheson lives on a farm near Lethbridge. She commuted from her father’s place in Wetaskawin to take both the pastry and culinary camps last summer.

“We started with breakfast made by the teaching assistants; omelets, fresh fruit, Danish, croissants, and pain au chocolate that we had made. Then we’d bake all day.

“We’d work from prep lists, with no less than six items to do. We’d start by feeding our sourdough; every day we made ice cream or frozen yogurt. We’d make brioche dough, cakes, some days we’d make bits for other things, like tuiles or accents for cakes, sugar art.

“I was a home baker. I made things like chocolate cake, carrot cake, pie, brownies cookies. We didn’t make cookies at boot camp.

“What do I do differently now? I learned the chemistry and the math. I scale more now rather than using measuring cups. The big thing was the science. I now understand how different flours work, how gluten develops, how to test for doneness.

“Boot camp refined my cooking and took it to the next level,” says Lori. “I was very pleased with the level of instruction and the materials. Clayton Folker was my instructor — he really brings his A game. I love my new Wolverine cooking shoes, great for standing all day.

“During the culinary camp we had a bit more time to work on technique — how to hold your knife, how to assemble your ingredients; we learned the organization of cooking and, really important, food safety and sanitation.

“The classes are hands on, exhausting, enjoyable and wow, do you eat well. It’s probably the most intense thing I’ve ever done.