Little known facts about sharpening and slicing… you heard it here!

There was a huge discussion about knives last night. In fact, it turns out that just as professional skiers eye each other’s skis and mechanics look at each other’s tools, cooks actually turn green with envy over knives.

Lesson Number One at Liaison College, Barrie’s newest professional and recreational activity centre.

Last week Liaison opened its ninth franchise instructional centre, and franchisees Gary and Pippa Gingras selected Barrie and its downtown as the very best possible location for a new chef and cooking school.

As the opening day ribbon was sliced in half by one of those knives, it opened the doors and turned on the grill for a unique school with a unique story.

Serious students can go to Liaison for 15 weeks to earn their diplomas as Personal Chef or Cook Basic. With funding through the school, students can expect to spend much of their time in practical application in front of stainless steel food preparation areas, kitchen in back, serving bar to the side as they learn the finer points of preparing and presenting food.

These are the students who plan to spend their lives on the business end of a knife.

Gary Gingras is quick to point out that Liaison is opening its doors to the lighter side of cooking as well. A series of evenings devoted to specific topics for the recreationally serious cook has already started. Last night the students were learning the finer points of knife skills and basic techniques. In coming weeks they can take advantage of soups & stocks, sauces 101, Guy’s Night Out, Celebrity Chef night, a pasta workshop, and even home cheesemaking!

Gary says these one-night or day-long workshops make perfect gifts.

Gary and Pippa settled on a derelict building at the northwest corner of Dunlop and Toronto streets to set up shop. They have transformed this building… gleaning parts of its history in the process. It’s now beautiful, inside and out, and has attracted other business to its second storey… a pilates studio, a business office, etc.

“There’s good energy in this building,” says Gary. “It was originally built as a hotel in the late 1800’s and I’d love to get actual historical data on it.”

The Gingras couple took out a 10-year lease and marshalled their skills gleaned from deli operation, catering, restaurant operation and will use all of this experience in business classes offered to would-be professional cooks.

They’ve hired Chef Michael Cortese as their principal instructor with guest instructors as courses develop. Each class will have no more than 12 students… Gary wants his instructors to be no more than 15 feet away from students at any time.

The Gingras family lives in Stouffville, kids in school etc., but already Gary is sold on Barrie. “Barrie is one of those infectious communities; the more time you spend here, the more time you want to spend here. It’s far enough north to be independent and far enough south to attract people. Since my signs went up a week before Christmas, any doubt I might have had is gone. Today’s turnout [ribbon cutting last week] just enforced that 300%.”

Gary has bought locally for all his renovations and equipment purchases.

While his diploma courses and recreational courses start immediately, he has his eye on a diploma or credit catering program down the road.

Liaison has its own in-house financing program for students and liaises (appropriately) with Service Canada, Native Affairs, Workers Comp, and Employment Insurance when possible.

You can’t just apply and be accepted to a diploma course. Gary does an interview. The teaching chef does an interview. “We look for the right people for the right reason,” he said, setting a goal of 100 graduates per year.

The Recreational cooking program just needs enthusiasm, a willingness to social and learn.

His plans also include corporate team building experiences, cooking for specific diets such as Heart, Zone, and Vegetarian and Vegan food preparation.

They also plan to rent their facility to other groups.

A terrific idea whose time has come! Welcome to Barrie, Gary and Pippa.

And, thanks!

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Donna Douglas is a Barrie writer who is ineffective in the kitchen but makes an incredible jar of garlic dill pickles.