The Canadian Culinary Federation Celebrates 50 Years

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The gang included 24 culinarians, many of whom were railway hotel chefs from Western Canada, who joined on April 22, 1963, to form the Canadian Federation of Chefs de Cuisine (CFCC). The meeting was inspired by the idea of promoting the culinary industry coast to coast, at a time when being a chef mostly meant working in a kitchen preparing meals for patrons. Today, Canadian chefs have vast international opportunities to apply their skills. Some even reach rock-star celebrity status with bona fide fans clutching cookbooks in place of albums. And, just as the profession has grown and changed, so too has Canada’s professional culinary organization.

It didn’t take long before it was clear that the original CFCC members were onto something. Within a year, the group nearly tripled its membership, making inroads with Eastern Canada’s chefs. The group flourished over the next decade and, in 1974, hosted the first World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Bi-Annual Congress ever held outside of Europe, in Banff, Alta. More than 700 international chefs convened in Banff that year, each gifted with an iconic white Stetson cowboy hat as a show of Canadian hospitality. “I give great thanks to the founding [CFCC] members for allowing me to be who I am today,” says Donald Gyurkovits, current president of what is now called the Canadian Culinary Federation — Fédération Culinaire Canadienne (CCFCC). “In the past, chefs were considered domestic, but now we’re seen as professionals, held in very high regard. It’s incredible to put on our whites and proudly hold up our heads. The federation has been pivotal in gaining that respect in the community.”

The organization updated its name several times over the years to match its changing membership. In 2003, the current moniker was chosen to reflect inclusiveness: no longer was the federation a place for only chefs and cooks, but also for bakers, pâtisseries, apprentices and other culinary professionals. Since 1963, the CCFCC has registered 10,600 members and today has more than 2,000 active members in 29 chapters across the country, including 800 junior participants. (Junior membership is open to anyone working in a commercial kitchen or studying culinary arts at a college or other institute.)

Junior programming includes the CCFCC/Saputo Junior Culinary Exchange, which Judson Simpson, chairman of the Board of Directors, considers one of the organization’s great successes. “The national exchange program is an incredible opportunity for young chefs to travel within Canada and learn new skills,” he says. The 2013 exchange was hosted in Charlottetown, where four junior chefs went foraging for mussels and worked alongside P.E.I. chef Michael Smith, the Food Network television host and cookbook author.

“[The Board of Directors] has taken some criticism for junior programming, because their membership doesn’t always roll into national membership,” Simpson confesses. “I’ve always maintained that once they get a job making a decent salary, they will come back to us.” The program is only eight years old, so the CCFCC will have to wait to see if and when its junior members return to the organization. In the meantime, national executive director, Roy Butterworth, echoes Simpson’s sentiments. “I see the junior program as paying it forward,” he says. “As experienced chefs, we must remember that there was a time when someone preened us. Now it is our time to give young people an opportunity.”

Education is an important element in the organization’s mandate and not just for its juniors. In June 2013, Simpson became the first Canadian Master Chef — a designation that equates to a PhD in the culinary world. The certification track for the world’s highest culinary credential recognized by WACS was developed by the CCFCC, in partnership with Toronto’s Humber College, where it is offered exclusively. “Graduating as the first Master Chef in Canada was a highlight of my experiences [with the CCFCC], but the Federation has so much to offer and at times we don’t celebrate that enough,” Simpson says. “The opportunities are tremendous.”

Maurice O’Flynn, a member (from the early 1970s to 1993) and former national secretary for the organization, also believes the CCFCC presents opportunities for those with the drive to seek them out. “You take any association, whether it’s for chefs or accountants or physicians, and you have the option of tapping into its resources,” he says. “If people are serious about getting focused on their career and networking, then [the CCFCC] can be a stepping stone.” O’Flynn’s time with the Federation saw him manage and lead numerous competitive culinary teams to national and international victory. The CCFCC has also led Butterworth to exciting career opportunities, such as cooking for Princess Haya bint Al Hussein of Jordan and creating a culinary program at a school in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Even with all of the opportunities it offers its members, the CCFCC still faces challenges, one of which is connecting with restaurant chefs. “It’s a problem, because we’re not getting a full perspective of the industry,” Simpson says. “Many restaurant chefs are very engaged in the day-to-day operations of their businesses and often don’t have the time to attend our conferences. We’re trying to make the organization more accessible by offering chefs the chance to drop in for a day, rather than committing to the entire event.”

CCFCC president, Gyurkovits, wasn’t always sure he wanted to become a member. “I thought I wouldn’t fit into the organization,” says the chef who once owned a restaurant, as well as three catering companies. But he’s fit in quite well and moved quickly up the ranks, since joining the B.C. Chefs Association seven years ago. “Canadian chefs are respected around the world as culinary leaders,” he says. “The educational programs developed by the Federation are outstanding and have helped us to create some of the highest-rated
cuisine internationally.”

And, Gyurkovits and his fellow chefs are happily putting their top-notch skills to work for the greater good. The CCFCC recently partnered with the Canadian Cancer Society to create recipes for cancer survivors and, on Oct. 20, a group of B.C. chefs will cook meals for hungry people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Now that’s something that would make the founding members proud. 

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