Five students and two instructors from the Culinary Arts program at the Universidad Tecnologica de Cancun - commonly known as UT Cancun - are experiencing Canadian activities and food in Sault Ste. Marie on a whirlwind tour of the city this week.
Their visit includes preparing food alongside Canadian students in the Sault College Culinary Skills - Chef Training program’s kitchen lab.
“It’s pretty amazing. For us, it’s the full Canadian experience,” said Manuel Rivero, UT Cancun Faculty of Culinary Arts instructor, speaking to SooToday on Thursday.
The Mexican group arrived in the Sault on Saturday and has enjoyed meals at local eateries such as the Blockhouse Pub, Steamfitters Lounge, The Mill Steakhouse and Ernie’s Coffee Shop and have also been introduced to maple syrup at Hogan’s Homestead.
They are scheduled to tour the Bushplane Museum, sample beverages at Northern Superior Brewing and eat at Peace Restaurant before they return to Cancun on Saturday.
They have also been introduced to skating, curling and snowmobiling and have sat around a bonfire at Goulais Bay.
“We’ve been enjoying the city, the attractions and special places where we can eat traditional food here in Canada. It’s amazing. We knew about maple syrup but now we know more about the maple trees, the maple syrup process and the maple syrup industry that is important in Canada,” Rivero said.
“We can do many different things with it. We will be taking what we’ve learned and making cocktails with maple syrup.”
The group has sampled pizza, macaroni and cheese, cured bacon, dessert with ice cream and poutine.
Rivero said he has personally enjoyed Irish soda bread and mussels, duck confit and cheesecake here in the Sault.
“Poutine’s great. It’s excellent. Nice food. The tastes, all the things we have tried here teach us about the place and its people.”
“I think the difference is that in Mexico we do not see Indigenous, Spanish, French and Italian food as separate. We see it as a fusion, but here in Canada you can see the difference, you can taste the difference between Italian and French and other types of food,” Rivero said.
“The food is really good and the city is really charming,” said student Diego Romo.
“The people are amazing. The soups are really good, and really warming. We’re from Cancun where there’s really hot weather, so I think it’s a little chilly, yes. But it’s been an incredible experience. I haven’t had opportunities to do activities like this before so I’m grateful that I have the chance to do them,” Romo said.
“I’ve done things I’ve never done before. The food is great. I love the flavours, both sweet and salty. The maple syrup’s sweet but it’s really, really good. We can take what we’ve learned and try new things. This won’t be my last time in Canada,” said student Maria Gonzalez.
The Mexican group’s visit comes after a group of Sault College Culinary Skills - Chef Training students and faculty visited Cancun to sample Mexican food preparation and culture for a week in February.
“Cancun was beautiful. I learned about Mexican culture and I was really amazed by it. I liked the fried corn tortilla, guacamole, salsa and onions,” said Sault College student Francie Feranil.
“I really enjoyed everything in Cancun. It was unforgettable, the sea, the sand, the hospitality of the people. They are very passionate about their culture. They’ve inherited it from their parents and grandparents and the passion of how they enjoy their food. You can really see it in them. They celebrate life through food. It’s a passion,” said student Maria Tan.
UT Cancun reached out to Sault College about the food and culture exchange program last year.
Deron Tett, Sault College Culinary Management professor, attended a gastronomic conference - relating to the practice of cooking and eating fine food - in Cancun in November.
“They’re very organized and very international. They had other guests from Chile and the U.S. as well. We experienced the science of melding flavours and how they come together and how to serve it,” Tett said.
The visit to Cancun by a group of Sault College culinary students and faculty followed in February.
“It was fantastic, and not just for the weather,” said Sarah Birkenhauer, Sault College Culinary Management program coordinator.
“We have an international cuisine course in our program and in that course we’re hoping to blend in techniques of Mexican cooking, because we’ve learned first hand how to do things the proper way,” Birkenhauer said.
“I’ve been here long enough to watch this happen, where our students leave Sault Ste. Marie, go out to various locations, experience different cuisines, manage kitchens and bring that knowledge, experience and passion back and that’s why we have some great restaurants in Sault Ste. Marie,” Tett said.
Both Sault College and UT Cancun officials hope to continue the exchange as an annual tradition.
“We’ve been working at Sault College for quite some time within our program to incorporate an experiential learning opportunity for our students to be able to travel abroad,” Birkenhauer said.
“They enjoyed going to see the luxurious resort properties and also seeing Mayan ruins and an evening presentation that took them through the whole history of Mexico. There’s a big emphasis on them being able to understand and enjoy the culture and for the Mexican students to enjoy northern Ontario culture,” Tett said.
Students and faculty from both institutions said they agree that it is important for culinary students to travel and experience cuisine from other countries during their postsecondary training and afterward.
“That’s one of the things a chef must do, to travel and try new experiences and bring those back to where you live and make some changes. That’s the goal,” Rivero said.
“I say to the students all the time that when you’re finished school it doesn’t stop there,” Birkenhauer said.
“This is an industry that continues to move forward and there’s always learning and growing that needs to happen. It gives you that spark, to re-energize, to get out of our comfort zone and experience other cultures and build friendships around the world.”