One local culinary instructor shares what makes the season truly special
It is the time of year when people gather together to celebrate, relax and of course, eat. Bernie-Ann Ezekiel, for one, has seen how the people of Newfoundland and Labrador cherish all these aspects of the holiday season. As a Culinary Arts Instructor at Academy Canada in St. John’s for nearly ten years, Ezekiel has been teaching students to prepare, cook, present – and to be inventive with their Christmas cuisine creations.
“There’s just such a festive nature to Christmas so people want to incorporate that into their cooking,” Ezekiel tells The Herald. “They want to experiment with fancy things and sweet little ideas.”
As readers know, the holidays are not complete without treats and large festive meals. There’s something about Christmas which makes many of us want to put in the effort and get inventive.
“We’re in Newfoundland so everything is food,” Ezekiel adds. “Everybody’s grandmother stuffs you with cookies and gives you all sorts of items. Every time you have tea there’s bread and crackers.”
The binding factor
Ezekiel believes that it doesn’t matter what one’s family background is – every culture has some sort of food that they love to share. “It’s just a really big binding factor between people. Everyone has that favorite or special dish. How many pot lucks do you go to over Christmas where everybody has their own thing which they love to bring and share?”
And what are among the more popular items we love to share during the holidays? Ezekiel admits that it varies by generation. According to her, middle-aged to senior folks really tend to enjoy old bold flavors like dark fruitcakes or rum or raisin cakes while younger people are enticed by items such as cookies, squares and snowballs. Items Ezekiel explains which are less bold, more pretty and a little more attractive. “Things that are on the artisan side.”
Naturally, we had to ask the culinary expert which items she entertains a fondness for. “Those bold flavors,” Ezekiel confesses. “I love dark fruitcake with rum. It’s one of my favorite things from childhood. I remember going to visit aunts and uncles at Christmastime and they would have this dark, black fruitcake with just tons of rum in the fruit and this really snowy white icing on it and it’s something that stuck with me forever and it’s something I try to replicate every year. Those are personally my favorite things.”
For Ezekiel, it isn’t just indulging in sweet treats that make the holiday special. In the true spirit of the season, she and her students will prepare and present meals to many of our local charities such as Choices For Youth. Providing a Christmas dinner to many in need not only fills them with warmth, it provides her students with the learning experiences to fine-tune their skills from deboning turkeys to using the carcass to make the gravy stock. “It’s something that everybody enjoys. We’ve built up a nice relationship with these charities so they know they can count on us to help out.”
She says it’s exactly the sort of thing they like to get behind in the community. Including their own tiny school community of Academy Canada which houses a campus food bank to aid needy students during the hectic (and expensive) time of year.
Ezekiel offers up her services by shutting down her kitchen and holding a bake sale. She also sells tickets for a chance for someone to win a fruitcake or a cheesecake, which helps students who are a little more needy towards the holidays. In fact, the culinary program usually ends up raising more than any other group on campus.
“We just spend the whole time baking,” said Ezekiel who shares that they also make up food hampers for students. These hampers include a turkey and other quality food items.
“It’s such a wonderful time for family, especially if you have children and we don’t want any students to worry over not having enough money to cook for their family. People can take these hampers home so that’s just one less worry on their plate.”
With the holidays fast approaching and with everything Ezekiel has to fulfill her time, we wondered when she will find the time to prepare her own festive delicacies, including that fruitcake she’s quite partial to.
With that question posed to her, she reveals that she bought her fruits way back in early October – where she’s had them soaking in rum ever since, ensuring a very Merry Christmas.