My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.
Afshin Keyvani rhymes off their names with as much pride as ease.
Chris Willick, chef de partie at Queen’s Landing in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Kelly Plato, pastry chef aboard a river cruise ship in Germany.
There are others, whose names come fast and furiously, scattered throughout well-known kitchens in Niagara. A cook at Bravo Pizzeria. Another chef making her mark at Ponte Vecchio, the four-star Italian restaurant at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort.
It’s hard to keep up.
Not for Keyvani, though, who gave these success stories their start turning out multi-course meals in the most unexpected place: a classroom restaurant at Fort Erie Secondary School (FESS).
For nearly 10 years, Keyvani and his students have been cooking up careers and gourmet dinners at The Pomegranate, FESS’s white linen restaurant that opens most Wednesday nights during the school year.
Just $17 gets you soup, salad, a main and dessert with flavour combinations you might see in a high-end restaurant. The real-world experience it gives the students running the place, however, is priceless.
“The kids are getting the chance to work in a real-life situation,” Keyvani said after a recent service at The Pomegranate.
“Every day we have a deadline to meet. We have to debone the chicken, make the pizza dough, make the bread, make the pasta. It’s like a real restaurant.”
The Pomegranate is a practical offshoot of the specialist high skills major hospitality and tourism program that Keyvani teaches during the day. The students in the program also run FESS’s cafeteria at lunch, feeding their classmates chicken Parmesan from scratch rather than chicken burgers from a box.