Diverse dining options at RRC Polytech’s student-run kitchens

By: Timor Syrota

Downtown Winnipeg is full of restaurants, pubs, bars, bakeries, and everything in-between to choose from.  Some can be found in plain sight, while others, like The Culinary Exchange (TCE), are tucked away.

Unless you’re a downtown regular, a student at Paterson GlobalFoods Institute (PGI), or an alumnus, you likely haven’t been to TCE. 

Located in the PGI building, TCE is a public food court offering various breakfast, lunch, and dinner items prepared by students in the Culinary Arts program at PGI. 

“Our students will stand up with any of the major high-profile cooking programs across the country,” said Michael Fitzhenry, culinary instructor and program coordinator. “We probably have more hands-on lab time, more experiential learning than any other program across the country.”

The two main restaurants in the food court are Global Cuisine, which features menu items from various countries or ethnic regions for lunch, and Short Order Lab, which serves comfort foods for breakfast and lunch. 

Short Order is currently closed until January, but Fitzhenry predicts once students are on campus, it’ll get busy again. 

For a more upscale, sit-down lunch and dinner experience, TCE also has Jane’s, which is run by second-year culinary students.

The open-kitchen concept restaurant used to be Union Tower Bank, full of clerks – now, it’s run by culinary instructors like Chef Clint Ducharme and his cooks for the evening dining program.

Chef Clint has been in the industry for 25 years and said he’s driven to empower his students to change the culinary world for the better.

“Part of my job is to change the old thought of ‘chefs don’t quit, you work through pain and injury.’ That’s not a thing anymore. Mental health is a big thing now,” said Chef Clint. 

“They’re students and I want to make sure they’re mentally and physically healthy. If they’re not at their best, they’re just surviving, and when you’re surviving you can’t dream.”

One of Chef Clint’s students, Marco Ilas, envisions owning his own Filipino cuisine-inspired food truck when he graduates.

“That’s an excuse to get away from the province to move around places,” said Ilas. “With that food truck, I want to bring new flavours to new provinces that they’re not familiar with.”

RRC Polytech Culinary student Marco Ilas preparing pickerel for evening dinner /TIMOR SYROTA

Ilas and his class are starting to look into co-op terms to finish the required hours to graduate. But because of COVID-19’s impact on the culinary world, a graduation date is up in the air for some.

“We all want to graduate, so do I, but our class built so much of a relationship with one another, so it’ll be hard to see each other leave and you don’t know when you’ll see each other again,” said Ilas. “That’s the only sad part, but otherwise, everyone is eager to graduate and work in the industry.”

Until then, Illas recommends stopping by to support and see what the culinary students are cooking up. 

Ilas said it’s rewarding when he and his peers get to see the expressions of guests enjoying the food after all the hard work they’ve put in.

Every three weeks the cooks switch in rotation and there is a menu change, which Ilas said is like building a new restaurant. For Jane’s evening dining, you need to make an online reservation, but according to Ilas, lunch is where it’s at.