David Wolfman, Chef Professor at George Brown College, says he’s always been a chef his entire life, and knew from the age of nine it was what he was going to do in his future.
Wolfman, a member of Xaxli’p First Nation, but born and raised in Toronto, remembers working in the kitchen with his mother when he was young and telling her he wanted to be a cook.
“And she said, ‘Well, what does it take to do that?’ And I said, ‘I’m not sure.’ She said, ‘Well, find out.’ And so I did find out,” said Wolfman.
Wolfman ended up doing an apprenticeship at George Brown College in Toronto when he was 16 years old, working for four years and eventually becoming what he said he wanted to be.
He travelled around the world being a chef and eventually opened his own Indigenous catering company catering to thousands. After all of this, he thought it would be “really cool” if he moved on to the next step and taught people — so he did.
“I actually moved to cooking in front of a classroom where I was in front of 24 or 48 students,” said Wolfman.
While Wolfman is doing what he loves his motivation, he says comes from working in the kitchen with his mother and what he witnessed growing up in east end Toronto.
Anywhere he worked, he was always amazed with the “abundance of food.” He remembers one of the first places he worked at, a friend’s restaurant, and walking in the walk in freezer being amazed.
“Working around all of this food where there was no shortage of it. And even the chef that was there, it was very similar to my mom for different reasons. As in we never wasted food. We ate everything, and even rice was leftover,” said Wolfman.
Working with the chefs he worked with and learning from them and what they do and how they do it really motivated him as well, saying it was almost like becoming a “magician.”
When it comes to his education, Wolfman says the four-year apprentice when he was 16 was “very intriguing” because it required learning skills for 15 weeks then go back in the industry for almost a year and then come back and do another section.
“Each time you went back to school, you learned more advance techniques,” said Wolfman.
In the fourth year, Wolfman says whomever you were employed by had to put you in different areas for that last year to really make sure that there were hands on skill in the real world and not just in the classroom.
For students that are leaving their home community, he says to make sure to keep an open mind and be ready to leave your comfort zone.
“One of the things that you have to realize is the thinking that got you sort of through that maybe your local area, your local school, that thinking is good for there. But once you want to sort of expand your horizons and go, it’s a different type of thinking and everything is going to be new.”
He says it will be challenging, and was even challenging for him to do the apprenticeship at 16 living in the big city. Wolfman remembers talking to his education counselor and saying he wasn’t ready to go to college, until his counselor convinced him to deal with it head on and to just do it.
“He said, ‘Go and go deal with that and just learn to deal with it. And if you have any challenges, call me,’” said Wolfman.
“Even though I was in Toronto going to a college in Toronto, it was leaving my community or my comfort zone. I know it might not seem like it to other people, but it seemed like it to me, and that was a huge step.”
A piece of advice Wolfman says for anyone going out in the world to do whatever they want to do is to make sure they absolutely love it.
“Find something you love. Ask yourself the question. ‘What’s great about this?’ And I think that’s really what’s key. ‘What’s great?’ If you ask yourself what’s great about it, your mind will answer it.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
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