21 Questions with Chef Rodney Bowers
For Rodney Bowers, Culinary Arts professor and coordinator for the Food Media program at Centennial College, “sustainability” is more than a buzzword. It’s where he increasingly sees the culinary industry heading and a cause in which he hopes to help Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts (SHTCA) become a leader.
“I want to help make Centennial the best culinary institution in Canada,” says Bowers. “I want to encourage domestic students to come here, examine how to make culinary school feasible for economically challenged communities, and focus on locality and sustainability. We have issues that we face globally and one way to start tackling them is at college level.”
Bowers knows a thing or two about the importance of sustainability. Before joining Centennial College as a part-time faculty member in 2017 and taking on a full-time role in 2018, he not only country-hopped as a chef in Spain, Germany, Belgium, England and the United States, but also owned his own restaurants. In 2005, Bowers opened The Rosebud, which quickly became one of Toronto’s top eateries, he followed it with a bistro called The Citizen in the city’s Leslieville neighbourhood, and then by Hey Meatball!, which was one of Canada’s first farm-to-table restaurants, serving quick-service style food.
“When you’re a restaurant owner, your money is in the waste you produce and you really appreciate how far a dollar goes, so back then, I looked at sustainability from a money standpoint,” says Bowers. “I then started reading about the bigger picture and attending forums. What’s most exciting is that now people in the industry are increasingly starting to focus less on extravagance and more on how we can use and reuse food, create zero waste and produce a smaller eco footprint. Chefs are starting to look at making food that’s incredible but more humble and less demanding on the world.”
At Centennial, that thinking is already demonstrated by SHTCA’s association with the Ocean Wise Program, which is focused on sustainable seafood sourcing, and Feast On, the Culinary Tourism Alliance’s certification program recognizing businesses committed to sourcing Ontario grown and produced food and drink. SHTCA was the first academic institution to receive the certification for sourcing local food and beverage products to use in its academic programs. Bowers, who also appears regularly on Canada AM and The Marylin Denis Show, says it’s only the beginning.
“I want us to look at everything down to what we are packing our food in and how we are distributing our food to our food and drink inventory,” he says. “I think it’s essential for students to see things done in a sustainable way so they know they can achieve that in the real world. I always tell my students to have integrity and follow through. Sustainability is an important part of that on a scale that considers the world.
“What’s great is that STHCA’s dean, Joe Baker, and chair, Suzanne Caskie, are always on board with the ideas I bring forward. It’s a supportive environment, and one that I think can help make a positive change.”
Written by: Izabela Szydlo