Starting from scratch: H.A.V.E. Culinary Training Society serves up opportunities

Chef Amber Anderson in the H.A.V.E. kitchen. Photo by Kevin Hollett.


Five days a week, the kitchen at H.A.V.E. Culinary Training Society at Powell and Dunlevy is buzzing as people learn how to prepare, cook and serve restaurant meals as part of an eight-week training program that prepares people for jobs in the food and hospitality industry. 


H.A.V.E., which stands for “Hope, Action, Values, Ethics,” was founded on those principles in 2007 by Brad Mills, owner of office supply company Mills Basics. He was already training Downtown Eastside community members with barriers at Mills Basics headquarters when Cook Studio, a social enterprise, closed its doors. Cook Studio trained and employed at-risk youth in food services. It was headquartered on Powell Street near Oppenheimer Park, not far from where H.A.V.E. bases its operations today. 


When Cook Studio closed, Mills approached executive chef Amber Anderson with an idea. “Brad asked me to help him start up a non-profit business training people with all kinds of barriers to employment,” Anderson recalls. “We hit the ground running.” 


H.A.V.E. Culinary Training Society was born. Mills now heads a board of directors and staff including program graduates and Anderson, who is a certified “Chef de Cuisine,” the highest professional culinary accreditation in Canada. Known affectionately as “Chef Amber” by students and peers, Anderson leads H.A.V.E.’s training program and its board of directors. 


“The most rewarding part for me is that we change lives,” Anderson says. “I have students who were homeless and now have steady jobs and their own apartments. To have a student come to you with their first pay cheque and say ‘thank you’ is overwhelming.”


In the five years since H.A.V.E. got started, the society has trained more than 500 people who face employment barriers like homelessness, addiction, mental health concerns, or disability. The H.A.V.E training program is also open to people looking to re-enter the workforce after an extended period out of a job, people who have faced barriers to education, as well as newcomers to Canada.


The H.A.V.E. training program broadens professional horizons as much as it fosters personal growth and builds life skills. “The students learn all aspects of the kitchen,” Anderson says. “They get breakfast and lunch daily, and their Food Safe certificate. We make resumes and help them find employment.” 


In the process of learning how to professionally prepare, cook, and serve food in a restaurant environment, program participants work together in a space intentionally set up for fostering personal growth beyond the culinary work at hand. Participants build lasting, supportive friendships in the program. Through the process of learning new culinary skills, they address personal barriers like self-doubt, fear and how to work positively with each other towards a common goal. 


The program, by virtually all accounts, is a success. More than 75 per cent of all program graduates have secured employment in the tourism and hospitality industry, and innovation in the program continues to grow. H.A.V.E. recently launched a downtown lunch delivery service using electric cargo bicycles called Bites on Bikes.


To experience H.A.V.E. at the table, visit Café 374 at 374 Powell St. The café serves breakfast and lunch from 8:30am to 2:00pm, Monday to Friday. Proceeds from food sales go directly into H.A.V.E.’s culinary job training and placement programs.

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