P.E.I. entry-level cooks program back in the kitchen after COVID-19 pause

More than a dozen cook trainees on P.E.I. are back in the kitchen after COVID-19 forced a six-month pause to their education. 

The free entry-level cook training program is offered by the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island and the Culinary Institute of Canada, with funding from Skills P.E.I. 

The goal is to train cooks to work in Island kitchens and help restaurants fill their labour gaps.

“Not a two-year graduate, not a chef, but someone who can come in at a very entry level,” said Austin Clement, program manager at the Culinary Institute. “Someone who understands food safety, somebody who understands the sense of urgency, preparation of small little sandwiches, soup, salads — that sort of thing.” 

Demand from restaurants

Clement said the program was launched in 2019 at the request of the food service industry on P.E.I., which was struggling to find enough staff. “In the past, certainly, there have been challenges with working conditions and wages, but that’s improved somewhat over the course of time,” Clement said. “The explosion we’ve had here as Canada’s Food Island, we’ve seen more restaurants, very good restaurants, built a reputation for food. We’re filling a need as volume increases.”

The first training program in 2019 had 16 participants, and five of them have continued their training at the Culinary Institute. 

This year’s program has 14 cooks in training, and all but four were in the program when the pandemic shut it down in March.

“It was a little disappointing. We missed out probably on a few important events that we were supposed to do now due to COVID,” said Kirsten Fisher-Compton, who travels to and from Lennox Island every day.

Fisher-Compton heard about the entry-level cook training program from her boss at Tyne Valley Teas Cafe, where she has worked for a couple of years. “Cooking really interests me. I’ve been really trying to get experience in every aspect I can,” Fisher-Compton said.

“I worked doing bakery and salad, sandwich things and now I’m trying the bistro side of things, so we’ll see how that goes.”

The participants do five weeks of on-the-job training and Fisher-Compton is hoping for a position with a “high-end” restaurant, somewhere in the Summerside area.

Fisher-Compton has applied to attend the Culinary Institute next year, with the ultimate goal of having her own food truck. 

‘It’s not easy’

Ryan Sankar was also signed up for the entry-level cook training program in February, after moving to P.E.I. from Trinidad and Tobago.

When the program was put on pause, Sankar spent the summer working under instructor Kyle Panton, getting his first taste of life in a kitchen.

“My biggest lesson I’ve learned is ‘don’t let the pressure get to you,'” Sankar said.

“This isn’t the place to come and just expect it to be easy. It’s not easy.” 

Sankar said the training program is also a chance for participants to find out what they think of the restaurant industry. 

“This course gives you an opportunity

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House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks

Congressional leaders are back at the negotiating table over the three-month stopgap — which is intended to punt any fiscal drama past Sept. 30 and until the lame-duck session — after talks broke down on Friday. While both parties appear to be coalescing around a Dec. 11 end date, Democrats and Republicans have squabbled for weeks over which funding and policy exceptions should be included in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.

A deal appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in payments to farmers that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.

But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky,), who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”

Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.

Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding another government shutdown under President Donald Trump and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.

Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.

“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked whether Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”

As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November.

Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.

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