H.A.V.E. Cafe: recipes for social success

Chef Lloyd McPhee (centre) with chefs  in the making Islid Carballo (right) and Hao Yuan Zhu (left).

Chef Lloyd McPhee (centre) with chefs in the making Islid Carballo (right) and Hao Yuan Zhu (left).

In all cities, there are the must-see sights – flashy, trendy, polished, upscale venues – and then there are those unlikely to be featured on any tourist board’s hit list, but which should be.

Tucked away on Powell St., in a part of the city that was long ignored but now experiencing rapid gentrification, is H.A.V.E. Cafe. H.A.V.E. (Hope, Action, Values & Ethics) is a social enterprise and a not-for-profit registered charity which doubles as both a cafe – serving on average around 50 customers per day – and a culinary training centre dedicated to empowering lives with a hand up rather than a hand out policy.

Mentoring job seekers

Since opening in 2007, H.A.V.E. has helped close to 600 people, who faced barriers to the job market, find work. Whether those barriers are a result of addiction, mental or physical illness, literacy or ESL issues, the school works to provide students with the skills they need to represent themselves honestly and properly. Ultimately, the goal of H.A.V.E. is to make its students competitive in a difficult job market.

Under the supervision of executive director chef Amber Anderson and chef Lloyd McPhee, who both hold the highest culinary accreditation in Canada, “Chef de cuisine,” the students have 8 weeks to learn techniques and produce dishes good enough to be served to the paying public. During this time, the students begin to recognise themselves as skilled professionals in the culinary world.

It is not only the standard of the food, however, that is worth mentioning. A striking feature of the program is the can do approach enforced by the H.A.V.E. staff and maintained by the students. The admiration and gratitude for what students have learned is evident, and comes across immediately.

Glen Lamont, H.A.V.E.’s student counselor, is an integral part of the team and someone whose support is not overlooked. Having graduated from the program himself in 2009, Lamont knows first-hand the challenges H.A.V.E. students face. As well as acting as mentor, Lamont fosters links between the outside world and the program, helping to secure work for students once they have graduated.

Walk by and you will miss it, H.A.V.E cafe on Powell St.

Walk by and you will miss it, H.A.V.E cafe on Powell St.

Students diverse as a smorgasbord

Islid Carballo, 27, is five weeks into the program and believes that what makes the course so rewarding is the one-to-one training students receive. According to Carballo, she is taking the course to better herself and feels she has found her passion after previously working in call centres and other jobs that did not really speak to her.

Most importantly, the H.A.V.E. program connects Carballo to something that is real for her. As a single mother of a 6-year-old son and a part of the Latin American community in Vancouver, the culinary training allows her to combine the important role that food plays in her culture with the strong work ethic she was raised to uphold.

Carballo’s parents escaped civil war in El Salvador and arrived in Canada in the early 1980s. Carballo witnessed her mother working long hours to support the family, and Carballo can now take pride in being able to do the same to support herself and her son.

Carballo is not shy about the hard work it takes to survive in a kitchen, nor the difficulty of being a woman in a strong male-dominated kitchen environment where things can sometimes get heated.

“It is not only the pots that need to let off steam!” she says.

While Carballo dreams one day of earning the coveted “Red Seal” – the highest standard of excellence in the industry – and perhaps opening her own catering company, she knows to keep her feet on the ground; and to take it in baby steps.

Referred to the program by Work BC, Carballo is on her way to graduating from the course and entering the workforce very soon.

Hao Yuan Zhu, 18, is three weeks into the program and is enthusiastic about H.A.V.E. and his training.

“I really love it here, actually!” he says.

Born in Beijing, Hao Yuan came with his mother and father to Vancouver when he was in grade one. Hampered by motor skill disabilities from birth, traditional culinary schools and training courses have often been unsympathetic.

Hao Yuan found himself unsupported when it came to producing levels of perfection demanded by other local institutions. Unable to cut the perfect “julienne” – pieces similar in shape – because of his disability, he was asked to leave other culinary programs in the past.

“[The feeling was:] make a mistake and you shouldn’t come back,” says Hao Yuan.

At H.A.V.E., Hao Yuan has been shown another approach. Everyone there faces different obstacles and is trying to overcome them. Where other schools gave up on Hao Yuan, H.A.V.E. will not –

if he does not give up on himself. Hao Yuan is now looking forward to starting as a kitchen helper in Burnaby after he graduates. Hao Yuan likes to cook Western fare over Asian cuisine – perhaps as a testament to the training and quality he has learned to produce.

When dining himself, however, he makes an exception for sweet and sour pork.

“I order it every time,” he says.

Inclusive but demanding

H.A.V.E. has a policy of turning no one away. That said, the program is not a walk in the park and not everyone is guaranteed work upon graduating. People who have made it through the door, however, are now at a point where they are ready to tackle their future positively and put their pasts behind them.

Once enrolled, students have to act and behave like chefs because paying customers – in addition to donations and some government funding – are critical to keeping the program running. Treating the training just as they would a job by keeping regular hours and being given responsibility enhances the work experience and makes the H.A.V.E. leaders’ jobs easier.

Lamont, Anderson and McPhee can personally vouch for the quality of their graduates and have no trouble recommending them because they have seen the high standard the students produce. When it comes to hiring, it becomes the turn of the employer to look beyond their preconceptions and see the person. Not everyone gets a second chance, so when these students do, they usually make the most of it.

“Believe me, no one is going to work harder,” says Lamont.

H.A.V.E. Cafe is located at 374 Powell St. It is open Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–2 p.m.