21 Questions with Chef Sally Chiu-Hildebrandt
When Sally Chiu-Hildebrandt was 11-years-old, she decided to gift a friend with a moulded chocolate box. Armed with chocolate chips that she melted over boiling water without understanding the delicate temperatures and conditions chocolate requires, Chiu-Hildebrandt ended up with a thick paste. Rather than giving up, she continued to try until she got the results she wanted. The experiment began a love affair with chocolate that would see Chiu-Hildebrandt become a skilled chocolatier with a thirst for knowledge, which, as a chef instructor and program coordinator at Centennial College, she brings to her teaching.
“Once in a while, I still volunteer at a chocolate shop to stay connected,” says Chiu-Hildebrandt, who teaches in the Baking and Pastry Arts Management program, is the program coordinator for the Baking Skills program, and was responsible for helping to redesign the programs a few years ago. “I like seeing what’s current. It’s an important investment for me and my students.”
In addition to a habit of staying up on trends (Chiu-Hildebrandt says in the next few years, she anticipates people will put more emphasis on sustainability when it comes to chocolate and push boundaries with innovative flavours, textures and techniques), Chiu-Hildebrandt brings with her an impressive resume.
After obtaining a culinary management diploma in 1993, she went on to work as a pastry chef at Scaramouche Restaurant from 1996 to 2002. It was during her time at the French restaurant that offers both an upscale space and a more casual bistro, that Chiu-Hildebrandt’s foray into chocolate really took off.
“It intrigued me,” she says. “It still seemed like a mystery at that point and so technical. I had my own kitchen, so I started to read a lot and put it into practice. It became a creative outlet. I volunteered at places and took workshops and because of that, I was able to challenge myself creatively. I always tell my students to read, listen, practice, analyze and practice again. Those are key steps for successfully learning.”
As her know-how grew, so did Chiu-Hildebrandt’s reputation as a chocolatier. For years, she worked on the Cadbury Chocolate Couture Collection Fashion Show, collaborating with Canadian designers to send chocolate outfits down the runway, and partnered with Nestle and the LCBO for pairing courses. More, recently, Chiu-Hildebrandt became a national chocolate judge at the International Chocolate Awards – Canada.
While she experienced a wide range of chocolate-related opportunities, Chiu-Hildebrandt also had an equal love of teaching. Much like her experience with chocolate, it was an interest first spurred when she was just 14 and taught at a summer camp. A graduate of Centennial College's Teacher/Trainer of Adults Certificate, Chiu-Hildebrandt not only taught at the college level before being hired at Centennial in 2015 but also designed and developed chocolate education programs for both public and private institutions around the city.
“I love that Centennial is a small school and there’s a lot of connectivity between faculty and students,” says Chiu-Hildebrandt. “Because of the school’s size, we can act fast to create, adapt and implement new topics and exciting project for the students. It’s a privilege to be able to do that.”
Written by: Izabela Szydlo