People who cook for a living are often asked, What restaurant do you work at? It's an understandable assumption -most professional cooks do indeed provide meals for restaurant patrons. But there are other career paths in the cooking profession, and today I profile two cooks who chose to do something different.
NIKOLAS MILONAS, EXECUTIVE CHEF, THE CRIDGE CENTRE FOR THE FAMILY
After meeting Nikolas Milonas at the Cridge Village Seniors' Centre, part of the diverse Cridge Centre for the Family, I wanted to move in. The surroundings are pleasant, but it was Milonas's cuisine that had me looking for a room.
"My approach is always fresh food, cooked from scratch. Why bother being a chef if you don't do that," Milonas said.
The Greek-born Milonas was nine when his parents brought him to Canada, to Vancouver where other family had already settled.
"My uncle owned restaurants there. When I was 11, I started washing dishes, doing prep. I really enjoyed it," Milonas said.
When he was 17, he and his parents opened a pizza place, which he helped run for eight years. Then he switched careers and sold insurance.
He was searching for his ideal career, but insurance sales wasn't something he could love. "Cooking was always in my blood," Milonas said. "My wife [Donna], when I would cook for her, saw how happy I was and said, 'You have to pursue this.' "
Milonas left the insurance business, went to Victoria's Camosun College and became a certified cook.
He worked in hotels and then in public institutions including the Victoria General Hospital and two assisted-living facilities.
In 2006, he was hired by the Cridge Village Seniors' Centre and became executive chef. His desire to cook for seniors is about respect.
"These people have done a lot for us, I love being able to give back, and we do that by giving them good, wholesome food," Milonas said.
Residents are provided a three-course lunch and a two-course dinner. What's offered changes seasonally, and Milonas is dedicated to using local ingredients, such as seafood and organic vegetables. He insists the stocks, sauces, salad dressings and desserts are made in-house. Nutrition is also a key part of his menu planning, which is why ingredients such as nutrient-rich quinoa are served.
Recent menu items include apricot mustardglazed pork tenderloin, roasted spaghetti squash with meatballs or almond and vegetable patÃ©. That's just a taste of what Milonas's talented kitchen team serve. No wonder residents arrive for meals early.
"We get great reviews; people are very happy.
They can tell that it's done with heart."
For more information about Cridge Village Seniors' Centre, go to cridge.org.
GILL SCADENG, NUTRITION PROGRAM CO-ORDINATOR, AIDS VANCOUVER ISLAND
People go to AIDS Vancouver Island for support and comfort, and you can feel the positive energy of those providing it.
AIDS Vancouver Island's mission is to serve the needs of people infected with and affected by HIV and hepatitis C. One service is a positive wellness program, which includes a drop-in space where clients can interact and enjoy a nutritious lunch.
Talented chef Gill Scadeng stirs the pot. She was born in England, studied cooking at technical school and in the 1970s trained in London under famed chef Prue Leith.
"Her teachers were Cordon Bleu trained, so it was basically Cordon Bleu training, without a Cordon Bleu certificate," Scadeng said.
She worked in restaurants, then at a major bank, whose directors had their own chefs. "We prepared some pretty amazing meals," Scadeng said.
In 1980, Scadeng and her husband moved to Canada -first to Port Alberni and then to Victoria. She applied for employment at Sooke Harbour House.
"Frederique and Sinclair [Phillips] asked me to cook a meal for them," Scadeng said.
"They hired me. It was quite a buzz, I was only 24."
Her husband's work took the couple to the Lower Mainland. Scadeng became a stay-at-home mom and started doing catering. Her marriage ended, she returned to Victoria and in 2006 she wanted to do some volunteering.
AIDS Vancouver Island was in need, but when they saw her resumÃ©, instead of getting her to volunteer, they offered her a temporary position to revamp their meal program.
"I was only going to stay a couple of months to set up the menu and grocery list, and then volunteers and clients would take over the program," Scadeng said.
Management realized they could not do without Scadeng's skill and spirit, and she has been there ever since. She prepares lunch for 40 in a well-appointed kitchen made possible thanks to funding from Coast Capital Savings Credit Union.
"It's interesting; some people will just pop in, say I'm not hungry, see what I'm cooking, say that smells good, and then say, maybe I am hungry," Scadeng said.
I would stay, too, if served Scadeng's yummy shepherd's pie, juicy roast chicken or fluffy frittata, just some of the tasty dishes she prepares.
"It's the most fulfilling job I've ever had. I love to cook, and I love to feed people. When clients say it tasted like my mother cooked me lunch, I know I've done my job," Scadeng said.
For more information about AIDS Vancouver Island, go to avi.org. There you can also learn about their local-restaurant-supported fundraiser, Dining out for Life, on March 24.
Eric Akis is the author of the recently published Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.