Ever since Chef Keith Hoare started cooking with his mom as a young boy, he has always known he wanted to be a chef. His culinary career began at 13, working in a pizza joint where he had to step on milk crates just to get the pizzas into the oven. At 18, he began his culinary apprenticeship at the now-defunct Constellation Hotel in Toronto and by 19 had started his own catering business aptly named Keith’s Gourmet Catering. He happily ran his business for over 20 years, until he was approached by a friend he had formerly apprenticed about going into teaching, citing a lack of qualified teachers and high demand for chefs in education. “Catering is a very demanding field and after 20 years of doing events and working long days, it was starting to take its toll,” he says. “One of the things I enjoyed about the business was working with young students and teaching them essential skills, so it seemed like a good fit.”
Intrigued, he applied to Teachers College and upon graduation in 2007 joined Thistletown Collegiate Institute as Chef Instructor where he has been teaching, inspiring, and motivating students ever since. He has won numerous awards over the years including the 2014 Toronto Star Teacher of the Year Award and was the 2020 recipient of Restaurant Canada’s Leadership Award for his dedication and passion for giving back to his community and the next generation.
Chef Hoare feels that being a good leader means being a good listener and someone who inspires. “Each year I involve the students in conversations about what they want to get out of the program. You also have to be good at inspiring the students to reach for something that they might not even know is there.”
For example, the first time he pitched to his students a class trip to Europe, many of them thought it was impossible. He convinced them they could pay for the trip through fundraising efforts and rallied the students to raise funds through partnering with other Chefs and Culinary Colleges to create an annual food festival in the school’s organic garden and sell food they had made at Food Festivals and Food Market pop-ups.
“It’s a great experience for the kids to see the logistics of setting something like that up but also realizing that we can hold our own when we go out and sell food to the public.”
Over the last 13 years they have raised over $400,000 to pay for culinary trips to Italy, Spain & France. Chef Hoare himself donated his winnings from Chopped Canada to help fund a culinary trip in 2015. “That money really put us over the top of our fundraising goals and I was able to present the kids with tour jackets with their names on it as part of the trip”.
For Chef Hoare, staying current and building strong relationships within the food industry are the foundations of his teaching approach. “I’m always trying to keep it very current and modify my curriculum every year. My students are very culturally diverse and we like to incorporate foods from everyone’s culture into our repertoire. I do a lot of research on the cuisines of my students and I learned a lot from them as well.”
He maintains good relationships with culinary colleges such as George Brown, Centennial, Niagara, and Humber College so that his students have access to different events and competitions. “When George Brown brings in Alain Ducasse to speak at an evening lecture, I make sure my high school students are there. When there’s an event like the Mac and Cheese Festival, I make sure my kids have a presence and are engaging with industry connections.”
Over the last year, Chef Hoare has had to make major changes to his curriculum, encouraging his kids to give back and to share the excitement and good that can be done through food. In the past, his students had prepared a shelter dinner every Christmas, but this year he wanted to capitalize on food waste, working with others in the industry to get access to any food overages and turning them into monthly shelter dinners.
Working with his chef contacts, including Chef John Placko from the Modern Culinary Academy, Chef Hoare’s students have prepared 40,000 shelter meals since mid-March for people with mental health issues or seniors, supplying meals for 13 different shelters and food banks. His in-class curriculum has also pivoted to focus on teaching students to cook for themselves on a budget, menu planning for feeding the family and how to cook with leftovers and maximize grocery budgets. “Right now that’s what my students need. A lot of families are struggling, and I wanted to make sure the kids are focusing on their mental health and that their families are being fed and eating nutritiously.”
For Chef Hoare winning the 2020 Restaurant Canada’s Leadership Award was very humbling. “I was shocked because I’m not a restauranteur, and it was nice to hear how people had heard about my impact through education, community service and charity work, it was nice to hear I was doing a good job and spoke volumes to the success of students going through the program.”
For Restaurants Canada, Keith was a clear winner for the award. “Throughout his career, Keith has demonstrated an incredible passion for raising the next generation of culinary leaders. Not only does he above and beyond of his students, but he helps to instill a deep appreciation for our industry,” says Todd Barclay, CEO and President of Restaurants Canada. “Keith is an exemplary community leader, and we are honoured to have him as our 2020 recipient.”
He plans to continue teaching for as long as he can as that’s the work he finds most fulfilling. “Teaching my kids work ethic and hospitality and the concept of being in service of people is the most important thing to me. I teach them that when you’re cooking for someone it’s really an act of love and you’re showing deep care for people when you make the effort to produce food for them.”
He does hope for some sort of normalcy as soon as possible when it comes to getting his kids out of the classroom. “Our whole industry is in such turmoil right now and the situation is not good for anybody. It’s not good for the mental health of the people in that industry, it’s not good for the bottom line and I’m just hoping we can get back to a place where we can go out to restaurants and experience the great tourism and hospitality that we Canadians enjoy from one of the most important sectors of our economy.”
To nominate someone deserving in the foodservice community for the RC Awards of Excellence Leadership Award, head over here. Deadline for nominations is January 31, 2021.
One-on-one with Chef Keith Hoare
What is your favourite junk food?
A nice greasy bacon cheeseburger.
What was your favourite food to eat when you were a kid?
Growing up, the favourite meal was always my mom’s Sunday roast dinner.
What are you cooking at home?
Right now we are on a seafood kick – so usually like a paella or a bouillabaisse or a seafood pasta.
What condiment do you always have in your fridge?
One of the things I use a lot of is La Bamba – an Italian spicy roasted pepper and eggplant condiment that has a big kick to it!
What is your favourite movie with food in it?
I like to show my new students the film Ratatouille since it’s such a great story. I also enjoyed the movie Chef – I found that pretty enjoyable because the Chef chews out a food critic which I think is every chef’s dream!
If you had to invite a group of people for an ultimate dinner party who would they be?
I would like to invite chefs from around the city because the I think chefs are some of the most interesting, hard-working and generous people so I think that would make a great dinner party. I also like to be put under pressure so I know that I’d really have to pull out all the stops to impress them.