Recently appointed to the role of executive chef at Conestoga…
From a relatively young age, Yvonne Kanchan had imagined herself working in a professional kitchen, either as a cook or a baker.
“I always enjoyed doing stuff in the kitchen, but when I finished school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” says Kanchan who was born in Oelsnitz in Vogtland, Saxony, in the east of the Germany and virtually on the border with Czech Republic.
Childhood imagination rang true. Today, Kanchan has worked in high-level professional kitchens in three or four countries and has now evolved into teaching culinary arts: this past March, she joined Conestoga College staff and will take her place as a chef-technologist at the new culinary school at the John W. Tibbits Campus in Waterloo in July.
Michelin star apprenticeship
As is common in Germany, Kanchan took advantage of educational programs that allow people to explore and test out working in a particular career for a few days to get an idea of whether or not they like it or not. “I worked in a hotel kitchen,” Kanchan says. “They liked my work, so the owner of the hotel directed me to one of their hotels in Bavaria for a few more days. I really enjoyed it, and the chef there said I could start on Wednesday.”
It was a serendipitous moment and a quick decision, and Kanchan, who was 19 years old at the time, was on her way to a culinary career. “That was late (in my life) actually,” she says. “In trades in Germany, you usually start after grade 10 and do an apprenticeship.”
Kanchan soon did that apprenticeship at Romantik Hotel Fuerstenhof, a hotel in Landshut, Germany, where she trained under Michelin-starred Küchenchef André Greul in the garde manger, pastry, saucier and entremetier stations. She is a certified chef, akin to Red Seal program certification here in Canada, and has worked in a number of other hotels in Husum and Hamburg, Germany, including alongside two Michelin-star chef Christoph Rueffer of Haerlin Restaurant.
After a year as Chef de Partie at Hotel Al Qasr in the Jumeirah Group in Dubai, Kanchan headed to the Canadian west and the Marriott in
Edmonton before landing in Ontario at the Royal Canadian Military Institute and Auberge du Pommier where current Langdon Hall executive chef Jason Bangerter was then on staff.
Promising students, eager to learn
Her past rigorous and demanding training in those kitchens and the experience she gained from it will contribute to her work with Conestoga students, she says. “During my apprenticeship, everything had to be made in-house. Greul was very strict about that. Everything was made from scratch. We’d get half a cow or venison and would break that down. Over Christmas, we’d get pheasants, still with their feathers,” Kanchan says. “You learned so much.”
And while feathered-pheasants aren’t possible here, Kanchan says she enjoys both worlds, that of prep and service and the instructional component of the kitchen. “I haven’t yet had too much time working with the classes, but I do see promising students here who are eager to learn. I see learning a trade like cooking can mean getting a job, even if you don’t want to take it as a career.”
At Conestoga, she will be in the lab for applied baking and applied culinary arts. “I supervise as they work on the technique in the lab and after they’ve seen the demonstration from the professor. I reinforce that to them. They make the item, and then I grade it. How it tastes, we will see,” she says with a smile.
The switch to the classroom environment, Kanchan admits, is quite a change of pace given her experience in Michelin-starred restaurants, but she’s looking forward to following the demonstrations and guiding her students in their labs.
“There are different ways to carry out different techniques, but we want coherence here,” she says. “Students can adapt later.”