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High demand for B.C. food service program for people with diverse abilities

Program that offers individuals cooking and safety skills once each year has a waiting list

From overseeing the fry station, to taking inventory, handling incoming deliveries and cleaning, Harman Singh Gill does it all at Surrey’s Bandra Café, where he has been working since receiving his certificate from a food service program for people with diverse abilities.

The Food Service Assistant Certificate, offered each spring through UNITI — an umbrella of three organizations that serve people with different abilities in Surrey and White Rock — is earned over the span of 23 weeks. During that time, up to 15 individuals learn the theoretical and practical aspects of food service under the instruction of professionals in the industry, delivered with diversity in mind.

It is offered in partnership with Western Community College and Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS).

The culinary arts did not actually pique Gill’s interest, but after his parents encouraged him to give it a try, the 22-year-old not only realized he has a talent for it, but grew to enjoy it.

“I want to do more stuff, slowly. Work my way up here,” Gill said of Bandra Café, a restaurant that serves authentic Mumbai, India-style food and beverages.

Gill, who now has six months of work under his belt, started off doing a lot of cleaning, organizing and prep work. While he still completes those tasks, he also works under the chef at the restaurant, learning the culinary side of the business.

Hannah David, who graduated alongside Gill last August, also works at the restaurant where she takes on front-of-house duties – also covered in the program.

READ MORE: Proud and Confident: South Surrey UNITI members of culinary school take to graduation stage

“Hannah had her apprehensions initially because she’s kind of reserved and shy. Dealing with people, dealing with a menu that she’s not familiar with, a culture she’s not familiar with and now she’s a part of the family,” senior program co-ordinator for the program Anirudh Rayas explained, with David away on vacation.

For Gill’s part, he said he’s learned “food safety, first aid, knife skills, hot and cold kitchen, watched videos, learned cutting techniques. I like setting (up) and organizing, the proper way.”

He started out working just a few hours a week and has now worked up to being a near-full-time employee.

“The trust is built so much with Harman. When we went and saw him, we were up in the air… but (they’re) very hard working, Hannah and Harman. They have a long way (to go) in this industry,” said Raunaq Nathowalia, co-owner and head chef at Bandra Café.

“When I interviewed Harman and Hannah, it was amazing to see the spark they had – the zest which, nowadays, you can’t find. I told Anirudh that we want to hire more people from the program.”

Lionel Crasto, Bandra Café co-owner, explained that any time he is looking for anything in the kitchen or the cooler, Gill is the go-to guy.

“Taking care of deliveries is hard work, but he always does it,” Crasto added.

The biggest goal for individuals who participate in the program is to build confidence in themselves to able to successfully work in their choice of role, Rayas said.

“Harman was the shyest person I’d ever met. He wouldn’t make eye contact with you, he’d look down and barely speak. Now, you’d never guess that.”

The next cohort will be starting the program on April 17. There is a wait-list for the session as program capacity is 15 people, but the demand for spots is higher.


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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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