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His career has been consumed by locally inspired ingredients and teaching, and Chef Vincent Stufano would have it no other way.
The new manager of Okanagan College’s Culinary and Pastry Arts program started this summer, and is looking ahead to infusing regional knowledge and products into the student experience.
“I wanted to teach here because when it comes down to what I am passionate about, the Okanagan is heaven. It has everything, from wine, farms, fruit, you name it,” he says. “The wine region is emerging, the farmers are getting better and better, and the artisans are making cheese. What better place could there be to teach young people who want to be chefs?”
Stufano was born in Montreal, raised by Italian and French family whose passion for fresh food, gardening, winemaking and locally sourced ingredients came second nature.
“A career in the culinary arts never occurred to me,” Stufano explains, adding that his education started early, following his father to specialty stores and farm stands to meet the people behind products. “Food has never been a trend for me, it was how our family shopped. You knew the farmers, growers, cheesemakers.”
After high school, the young Stufano struck out on his own to travel west, landing a position at the Coach & Four Restaurant, a long-time establishment in Victoria run by a Welsh owner.
“From there, I realized this is what I want to do for a living,” Stufano recalls.
He began working in several kitchens across B.C., apprenticing at Big White at the age of 23. After graduating, he found himself in Vancouver at the time of Expo 86 standing in front of Canada Place, inspired to cook in the city. He managed to talk his way into a meeting with the head chef of the Five Sails at the Pan Pacific Hotel, who brought him on as chef de partie.
He was certified under the Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks in 1989/90, and embraced pastry while working at the Delta hotel in Whistler. That brought him to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where he worked for 18 years and ultimately became the executive chef.
Stufano’s skills have been seen at culinary competitions around the world, including Singapore and Chicago for Team B.C., and representing Canada in Germany and Switzerland.
He found himself consulting, helping organizations develop and build their kitchens and menus throughout the province, and joined the El Dorado in 2017 and most recently Kelowna Yacht Club.
"I really enjoyed passing on information. I love history, and I need to understand the foundations of everything, how things have evolved,” Stufano says, adding that sharing knowledge has always been part of his philosophy in the kitchen.
“As a chef, if you are not naturally a teacher, a coach, a mentor, then I don’t know if you can succeed. You can come up with a concept, but if you can’t explain it to your team and have them understand and replicate it, then you fail."
Stufano says he views his position as an important link between students and the greater community of professional chefs who are connected to the land and region’s bounty.
“My role is to build the new programs to attract young inspired culinary students to us, and promote an environment of learning. I would like us to get to the point of bringing in chefs from across the region, so students are exposed to local ingredients from their point of view,” he says. “I have connections in the industry and culinary schools across the country, and I think we have what it takes here to rival every one of those programs.”