Annie Lehky

Finding creativity in cooking

May 30, 2021

Annie Lehky's story

Meet Annie Lehky, a second-year Culinary Arts student at Vancouver Island University (VIU) who has a passion for all things creative. She loves music, reading and writing short stories and poetry, and has recently started dabbling in painting as well. Annie has spent the last two years at VIU learning about what it takes to make it in the restaurant industry. She aspires to be an executive chef and plans to pursue a Red Seal in baking as well.

Tell us a little bit about the Culinary Arts program.

In the culinary program, the first year is all about perfecting the basics of cooking. For example, how to handle a variety of equipment, including half a dozen different types of knives, with confidence; come up with excellent soups and sauces; how to cook different cuts of meat; and how to cook an egg to perfection in any form. The second year is about honing and focusing those skills, working with more exotic ingredients and generally building on the first year’s knowledge. There is lots of room for freedom and self-expression in your cooking in the program, and opportunities for extra work and fun experiences if you look for them. And so much time with absolutely outstanding instructors who have so much to teach us. I absolutely adore it.

What are your future career goals?

I am going to be an executive chef. I love working with people to achieve excellence. I thrive in a teamwork-based environment, and I specifically love leading my team to success every day. I also have a great passion for baking and am hoping to pursue my Red Seal for that program as well.

What are your hobbies/passions in life?

I love to read fantasy books and write creatively, including short stories and poetry. I adore music, almost every single genre. I have recently started to paint as well, which I really recommend – it is a lot less scary than it seems for beginners, and so therapeutic.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your studies and career path?

I cannot think of a single way COVID-19 has not impacted my education. It’s a lot more difficult to transfer material onto online learning when the lesson for that day is a special way of cutting an apple into a canoe shape with a tiny knife or working with expensive ingredients that most students can’t purchase for themselves. I have lost so much time learning in-person from our incredible instructors. I have lost the opportunity to help volunteer for a banquet in Vancouver with our former program head. I lost an entire work study opportunity from last summer. Most of the best opportunities for student jobs are with hotels, which are not even accepting applications due to COVID-19. I was expecting to have the funds from these opportunities between school years to get by. Instead, I had to move back in with my parents while school was purely online.

I need to secure a work study co-operative to receive the certification for the levels of school I’ve just completed, but my industry is in shambles. Restaurants are currently running bare minimum crews who do not need, want or have the funds for students. If they were to start to hire again, they would first re-hire the talented chefs that had to unfortunately be cut in the first place due to the pandemic. If COVID has taught me anything, it is that you have to go above and beyond for the things that you want and appreciate them as much as you can. Get the most out of your education because you will never have the same day, the same learning experience ever again.

How did you overcome some of these challenges you mention in the question above?

We have an amazing co-op coordinator at VIU who helped me with finding a job that I am very lucky to have. My partner and my family offered a lot of reassurance and allowed me to lean on them when I was feeling overwhelmed or down about everything. While we may never return to normal, maybe eventually we can get close? COVID has closed a lot of doors for me, but it has also opened ones that I never even considered before. And maybe, in the end, it’s for the better that I had to stay in Nanaimo where I’m comfortable and have that support as my career is just starting. Whatever the case, I am grateful for the job I have now. Every morning I go to work excited and motivated. The people I work with are incredible and I’m cooking some great food.

Girl wearing VIU Culinary Arts uniform holding a lobster

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