Ms. Gunn is a green industries and hospitalities teacher at Marc Garneau.
Q: What courses do you teach?
A: I teach green industries and I teach senior hospitalities. Green industries is the study of five main areas in the profession of green industries; agriculture, horticulture, floristry, forestry, and landscaping. I especially focus on how it is as a technology or hands on as opposed to the science and biology behind it. Hospitality and tourism – again it’s looking at it as a profession, not just baking a cake but how the industry of hospitality and tourism is. I come from twenty years of working in the culinary industry so I look at it from the career side of the things.
Q: How long have you worked at Marc Garneau?
A: This would be my second semester. I started last semester. Not quite a full first year yet.
Q: Did you always want to be a teacher?
A: Well, I probably can’t answer that quite the way most teachers would because no, actually. Both my parents were teachers and I swore when I was a teenager I was never gonna become a teacher. And then I changed my mind when I was in my early twenties and I thought that I might go to teachers college but then I backed out of that because of the state of things at the time – the government wasn’t very favourable to teachers. So I went off and I worked – I went to Europe and I cooked there, I traveled, I worked for some really great restaurants here in Toronto as well. I’ve worked as a chef for twenty years.
Q: When did you become interested in cooking?
A: When I was teenager, I couldn’t cook to save my life. I couldn’t boil water, I was pitiful. Then I got really interested in making desserts just because it was challenging and probably because my mother said that it was too hard for me to do. I was making very fancy French desserts like profiteroles, chocolate eclairs, not a practical thing to start with but it was what i got interested in. So that was probably when I was seventeen or eighteen. Then, I guess I was nineteen when I said I’m actually going to go to culinary school. I planned to go to some really good ones in Canada but I decided that if I was going to go, I wanted to go somewhere where I was living it, where I was immersed in it. That’s why I went to Europe because in a lot of countries, especially France, it’s part of their culture. It’s so much about the appreciation of food and that’s very different from North America.
Q: What is your favourite meal to cook and/or to eat?
A: That’s hard. I like to make pastries, and do sugarwork, and make candies because it’s out of the ordinary, and its fussy, and makes people go “Ooh that’s amazing!” I love making sushi with my son or making pasta just for the heck of it. I like making something like butter chicken because it’s not something I grew up eating. But what I really like is to make a meal that feels comfortable. Everybody’s at ease eating and I’m not necessarily in the kitchen fussing. It might be as simple as getting out some nice flatbread and opening a bit of hummus, having a few pickles and preserves on the table, and just having a casual meal because it changes the way people approach the table.
I do like to eat a really lavish meal. I love to go for a tasting menu and have people surprise me with flavours that I have not had before. But, I do love to have something simple like dumplings or pad thai. I think for me, it’s who you’re eating with and how you’re eating. What you’re eating needs to be good but it only adds to it. To elaborate with something I learned in Europe, as a young cook I thought the difference between a one or two michelin star restaurant – which is still pretty high up, three is the highest – I thought “It’s just the food, it’s really just about the food.” But, three stars or even one star means you’ve thought about the service, you’ve thought about the layout, and about how your customer feels when they come and leave your restaurant. It doesn’t matter if the food tastes amazing or how it looks, it’s that extra that makes you feel amazing when you’ve left the meal. Like if you have a meal with friends, it’s gonna feel way better than if you ate it by yourself.
Q: What is your best cooking tip?
A: Be prepared an if you’re using a recipe read it the whole way through and read it a second time.
Q: What is a mistake you see people often make in cooking?
A: Not reading a recipe. Jumping in before they realize what they’re doing. I don’t think any mistake is – well maybe a couple mistakes are incurable (laughs). The only other mistake is giving up. You make a mistake, be creative, problem-solve, figure out how it is you can take that and turn it into something interesting. Probably half of the most innovative dishes that have been made have been made because someone said “Oh my goodness I didn’t mean to do that but I’ve got guests coming in 20 minutes what do I do? Okay, let’s do this and change it around.” In terms of mistakes, that’s what I’d say; giving up too soon.
Q: How does one teach cooking?
A: I think it’s teaching how to ask questions, teaching how to observe, and teaching to taste. To just make something and say “Umm, it’s good,” you’re never gonna know until you taste it, and taste it again, and taste it again. To me, cooking is about that repeated action. Taste it when you start, taste it when you’ve seasoned it, taste it once you’ve finished it. Any chef never sends food out unless they’ve tasted it.
Q: Do you think students should put more effort into eating more local/organic food?
A: I do. I am a big enthusiast of that. I’ve worked for years with local farmers and I just think it’s really important for our environment, for our economy, and for our health. We’re so lucky in Ontario to have a wealth of products, growing land, knowledge, and the fact that it’s such a diverse community, there’s people coming from all over the place that can teach us new things and about growing conditions in other countries, different vegetables, and different techniques. We have this massive history of First Nations traditions too in terms of planting, gardening and foraging techniques. To me, we’ve got this breadbasket of all this stuff that it’s important for us to understand. Also, taste-wise, a tomato I’ve grown in my backyard almost always tastes better than a tomato that’s been shipped all the way across North America from California.
Q: Do you have any advice on how people can eat more locally?
A: I think it’s a matter of paying attention. Pay attention to what you’re choosing to put your money towards. And tasting – paying attention to those differences. Once you start paying attention you’ll realize “Wait a minute, that apple that came from Ontario has more flavour and is more fresher tasting than that apple that came from Argentina.” Also thinking about the seasons. “It’s February, do I need to eat strawberries right now? They don’t really taste like strawberries right now, they taste like pink styrofoam.” During strawberry season, eat strawberries. During asparagus season, eat asparagus. Get involved in community gardens or even grow plants on your balcony. There are very little limitations. Farmers’ markets are another way. Also, at grocery stores, ask questions. If you say you’d like to spend your money on apples that come from Ontario, they will listen to what their clients are asking for. Make it known that you’re interested in buying local.
Q: How do the students of MGCI differ from students in the other schools you’ve taught in?
A: There’s an international diversity here. My first school in Port Hope had very few visible minorities. In that way, this school is very different and I feel very welcome here in the sense that there’s so many nationalities. I actually think there’s more similarities because teenagers are all sorting out what’s going on in life, figuring out what you like and what you don’t like, dealing with your mental and physical health. All students have so many pressures on them so that’s a common thread between all the students I’ve worked with.
Q: How has the culinary industry changed over time or from place to place?
A: Since I’ve gotten into the culinary industry there’s been a giant embrace of local and sustainable food movements. As I was coming into it there was this enthusiasm for the global economy like “If we can order strawberries in February to dip into chocolate, lets do that!” Now, we’ve moved more towards what we can grow in our own backyard and making dishes from all different cultures but trying to use ingredients from here. Toronto has gone through a huge culinary change from the eighties where it was all about steakhouses to right now where we’re looking at smaller plates and tasting menus and that kind of stuff. Also, I’ve noticed changes with food trucks. When I was a high school student, the only food truck would be fries and hot-dogs. Now, it’s not a huge culinary landscape but there’s definitely more varieties opening up.
Q: What is the best part about being a teacher?
A: There’s a lot of great things about being a teacher. I love getting to know my classes, getting to know what students like, what they dislike, and their sense of humour. Oh my goodness so many of my students have a great sense of humour which I really love. I love teaching stuff – being able to impart information. I love finding something that someone enjoys that they didn’t know they enjoyed. I had a student years ago that made yogurt for the first time and they were not someone who I ever thought would want to make yogurt in their life and they were over the moon about having made yogurt. That made my day.
Q: What is the worst, or hardest, part about being a teacher?
A: Lots of things need to be happening at the same time; marking, getting those literacy assignments marked, infrastructure that needs to be fixed, all at the same time. It’s also sometimes challenging when I can’t find that motivator, that hook that grabs a student. A regular early morning is still a bit of a challenge.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: Well I have a son who is seven so a lot of my hobbies involve things seven year-old boys like these days. I am an avid reader. I have a wide range of music tastes so I listen to a lot of different music. I love to garden. Ask me in five years and I’ll be doing more art!
Q: What is one fact that students would be surprised to know about you?
A: I play the violin. Not actively but I do play!
Q: Has there been an student who has had a lasting impression on you, other than the yogurt one I suppose?
A: I’d say all my students have a lasting impression on me. I think I learn more from my students than they learn from me. I see people in the hallways and I can remember specific things about most of them. I think most students leave an impression, whether it’s learning more about my teaching or whether it’s as straightforward as I’ve learned some really awesome recipe they’ve learned from home.
Q: What has been one of your favourite memories at Marc Garneau?
A: I don’t even have a full year of memories! Well I have to admit, it’s cheesy, but my favourite memory is when they gave me the job here because the administration and the teachers here are so great. I was so delighted to get a job here and by the fact that they found a place for me. I’m sure I’ll have awesome memories in years to come but right now it’s the fact that they hired me; that handshake from Ms. Goldenberg!