Some skilled tradespeople work with metal, refrigerators, pipes or machines, while others work with hair, jewelry, plants or food — never all at once, though, because that would make no sense and would also probably be against a whole heap of laws.
Aamir Hussain (pictured third from left) is a young, up-and-coming artist and Cook at Oliver & Bonacini’s Canteen, a casual, fresh market café and bakery, as well as a “grab and go” counter located in the TIFF Bell Lightbox, who fits into the latter category.
“No textbook could have ever taught me what cooking has taught me . . . The way you learn is through the people.” —Aamir Hussain, Cook, Oliver & Bonacini’s Canteen
Starting in high school, Aamir had several reservations about going to university: “I’ve never been very academic, but I’ve always been hands-on and liked to be on my feet.” When he thought about staying back a year in order to figure out what it was he really wanted to do, he was guided to “just go to university, and try it out”, he recalls grumpily.
He thought it was silly to discover his passions, which might not even be developed through university, while paying close to $7,000 per year for tuition and fees, so he took a different path than most of his peers, and applied to college.
He had worked in a kitchen before and, to him, “Food just made sense once I thought about it.” So, he applied to George Brown’s Culinary Management program and graduated in 2 years after networking with some of Canada’s top chefs.
Externships (similar to internships) and stages in various kitchens allowed Aamir to see how a real kitchen functioned. His summer at the Royal Canadian Yacht club catering boat tours, corporate events and weddings sealed his culinary future: he loved the detail-oriented, fast-paced, demanding work, and the incredible people he kept meeting along his way.
At the Royal Canadian Yacht club, “I learned consistency, because you had fully plated meals for 400 people. Every dish had to be exactly same: wiped down, 3 pieces of asparagus, 4 heirloom carrots, 2 bundles of rapini, a good portion of mashed potatoes and a perfectly cooked steak.”
However, it’s his time at Canteen that has infused his work with passion: “Being on a line (a line cook) teaches you to deal with stress and work on the fly. It teaches you to work hard and work fast because, just like in any other job, there are deadlines and you have to work hard to reach those deadlines,” he says. “If you don’t have passion, there’s no point. If you send out a dish without it looking as good as you want it to look, there’s no point.”
Finally, Aamir emphasizes how important experience is in any skilled trade: “When you start working, it’s weird how little cooking has to do with food as much as learning how to cook in the first place, and learning to cook well. Because cooking is a trade, the way you learn is through the people.”
He says, “I love being a cook because it builds character, teaches you to work hard, to appreciate the finer things in life, not to be wasteful, observe your time, and work hard/play hard. No textbook could have ever taught me what cooking has taught me.”