Which women in your life have inspired your tastes and talents? Like many Canadians, VCC culinary arts student Katherine Aguilar remembers her mother and grandmother as the ones who passed on cultural recipes and flavours, and brought family together around the table.
Today, as a professional cook, Katherine continues to hold these values close as she connects food and people in her own unique and essential career.
Although she’d always had a passion for cooking, when Katherine came to Canada from the Philippines as a young teenager over 20 years ago, her focus was simply learning English and making it through high school. “It was hard for me to adapt,” she remembers.
After high school, on the advice of her parents, Katherine started a career in pharmacy technology. “I survived,” she says about her job, “but I mostly looked forward to weekends in the kitchen with family.”
Soon, Katherine joined her grandmother in making and selling the family’s famous lumpia (spring rolls) to make extra money. With secret family recipes in hand, she eventually opened a catering business, Palate Catering, serving traditional Filipino snacks and meals at community events.
At the same time, Katherine started a job as a dietary aide at a long-term care home in Abbotsford, but her talents did not go unnoticed, and she soon started cooking full meals in the kitchen.
Between cooking full-time for seniors, running a catering business, and opening a Filipino fusion food stall (Star Burrito) at the Richmond Night Market, in 2019, Katherine decided to pursue formal culinary training and credentials.
“It was scary at first!” she says about starting VCC’s culinary arts program after 15 years of working. “But now, I feel like I’m a teenager again. I never knew learning could be so fun and amazing.”
In 2019, after completing Professional Cook 1 Plus, Katherine won VCC’s Santiago Cuyguan Award of Excellence, recognizing her dedication to cooking and openness to diverse culinary influences.
In 2021, with her catering business and food stall temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Katherine decided that now would be the perfect time to complete Level 3 of Culinary Arts (Cook) Apprentice – the final stage of trades training before challenging the Red Seal examination. Even with a portion of the program now online, Katherine is pleased with her progress. “I’m glad I did it!” she says. “It refreshed my memory. It was the right time.”
Throughout her schooling as well as the pandemic, Katherine has continued to work and apprentice at the long-term care home. “The pandemic has had a big impact on our work,” she says. “The elderly are prone to sickness, so we are very careful.”
Fortunately, as of February 2021, the facility had avoided any outbreaks, and Katherine, her colleagues, and all the residents have received full COVID-19 vaccinations.
When classmates ask Katherine why, with her advanced culinary training, she continues to cook for seniors rather than work at a fine restaurant or hotel, she recalls her grandmother’s values. “You don’t get to know people in a restaurant,” Katherine says. “I’m connected to the people I’m serving. I know who’s eating the food, and that’s why it doesn’t feel like work.”