Profile: St. Pius X Career Centre’s feeds culinary and hotel industries with new workers
The glam and grandeur of the hotel industry and the finesse and flair of the culinary arts are not lost on St. Pius X Career Centre students. The EMSB vocational school is led by professionals with years of experience in their respective fields now looking to train the next generation of chefs, cooks, and hoteliers.
For Gabriella Garofalo, a student in the Professional Cooking program, her teachers’ knowledge is a major part of the school’s appeal. “I look up to the teachers that tell you all about their experiences,” the 21-year-old said. “I want to have the same experiences like travel Europe and cook too. I want to do that. It inspires you.”
The St. Pius X Career Centre offers training for two vocational paths: Business and Professional Cooking. Hotel Reception is a Diploma of Vocational Studies (D.V.S.) program offered within the Business program. Upon completion of either D.V.S. stream, students will come out with professional experience of their own from their internship placements.
Garofalo says she has her eye on the upscale Beatrice restaurant for her internship or any well-known Italian spot. After completing all 98 credits, which takes 13 months of daytime classes and includes an internship, students are equipped to work in a variety of food industries from restaurants to banquet halls to cruise ships. The cooking program also offers a night class option, a route that takes about 16 months to complete.
Modules include breakfast, fish and meat, buffet, and desserts. “My favourite has been dessert, I think,” Garofalo says. “It’s really detail oriented. I really like it so far!"
The culinary arts field is varied and diverse within which chefs and cooks can explore their artistic side and express their passions. That’s why students are encouraged to pursue an internship at a restaurant they’re interested in working at. Ultimately, St. Pius X staff makes sure everyone gets a placement and emerges with work experience.
St. Pius X also offers Contemporary Professional Pastry Making as well as a Food and Beverage, both shorter programs that can complement the Professional Cooking D.V.S. Cooking teacher Chef Adam Piperni says it’s to a student’s advantage to complete all three because they would have more skill sets to offer the industry.
“If they wanted to go on and open their own place or manage or own a restaurant or hotel,” Piperni said, “a combination of the three programs together is something we try and tell our students to maybe consider.”
The seven-month Hotel Reception D.V.S. program at St. Pius X also offers a wide range of professional opportunities within the hotel industry and the peripheral airline and tourism industries. The program focuses on training students in all the competencies required to handle reception desk operations, a hotel’s main department.
Hotel Reception teacher Valerie Valente says it’s a stepping stone. “People usually start at the front desk,” Valente said. “Then you can continue on into other positions.” Other departments include food and beverage, management or sales and marketing.
Program modules focus on highly transferable skills like safety and security, basic accounting and professional relationships. The centre also has a simulation room with specialized hotel-management software so students can get hands-on training for a computerized hotel environment. By the time the month-long internship phase of the program rolls around students are taught all the hiring process basics.
Anna Pascarella says when she completed the course work ten years ago she got hired at the Marriott Hotel downtown Montreal right away. “That’s how well prepared I was for the interview,” she said. “I got hired right on the spot.”
Even after nine years on the job, Pascarella loved working as a front desk clerk at the Marriott. If it hadn’t been for the COVID-19 pandemic she says she would still be happily employed there.
Just like Professional Cooking, the Hotel Reception program can also boast of 100 per cent internship placement rates and nearly all of those students go on to get jobs. Valente says the school partners with a wide range of employers and they’ll try to match students and property types appropriately. However, students are encouraged to seek out their placements based on their interests.
St. Pius X Community
A positive learning environment is also one that fosters new connections and strong relationships, which Pascarella and Garofalo say they’ve both found within their programs. St. Pius X attracts students from all walks of life bringing diversity to the student body. “You make friends with everybody, not just people your age,” Garofalo said.
Two of Pascarella’s closest friends to this day are people she met through the Hotel Reception program. She also remains in touch with Valente, her former teacher.
Most of the school’s teachers are alumni who are keen on giving back to the St. Pius community, including Valente and Piperni. Piperni returned in a professional capacity 11 years ago after graduating from the school in 1994.
For Valente, she was still working in the hotel industry when she was approached about teaching at St. Pius X full-time and said she had to decide. “I still loved it, but I also told myself ‘this is an opportunity, to teach’,” Valente said. “So, I winded up taking this opportunity and I’ve been here ever since.”