On a fall evening last October, Roy Thomson Hall was the place to be for foodies. Bite-sized servings of delectable sweet and savoury dishes and an assortment of fine alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages were on offer in the hall’s main floor, live music played, and a silent auction took place. But this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill party: it was an evening of women supporting women with breast cancer, and it received a boost from George Brown College

Eat to the Beat is a popular social culinary event in which 60 female professional chefs share their talent in order to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society. Presented by KitchenAid and now entering its 24th year, tickets to this one-of-a-kind annual event cost $189, which supports breast cancer information, programs and support services.

For several years, Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts (CHCA) faculty and students have participated in Eat to the Beat. The goal is threefold: contribute to an important cause—breast cancer accounts for a quarter of all new cancer cases in Canada; publicly demonstrate the college’s culinary and nutrition expertise; and provide students with a meaningful hands-on learning experience.

“We do theory and lab classes on the role of nutrition in addressing chronic diseases, including cancer, so this provides a way to enhance the learning,” says CHCA professor and professional chef Jeanne da Silva, who has led the college’s involvement in Eat to the Beat for the last four years.

In preparation for the 2018 event, da Silva collaborated with instructors from the four other local participating colleges to introduce a new element: a friendly competition for up-and-coming chefs. She developed the following nutritious, delicious menu: Moroccan braised lamb in a teff crepe; apple and preserved lemon chutney; and a mint and coriander chermoula drizzle.

Female students from the Culinary Management—Nutrition program were invited by da Silva to apply to join her at the event, and she selected two. The students were involved in every part of the process: accessing ingredients from the college’s inventory, preparing the food, setting up their station and presenting the servings to guests. One of the students came up with the idea of packaging the leftover spices into packets to give away at the event.

“We had an amazing time—the students took part in every step of planning and organizing our station. It was an excellent learning experience,” da Silva says.

The competition for the participating college students was facilitated by input from guests, who cast their vote via iPad balloting for a People’s Choice Award, and the George Brown team came in second place. In addition to motivating the George Brown students to step up their performance level, the experience at Eat to the Beat offered other benefits.

The students got to observe a large-scale, high-calibre culinary event first hand, which provided a taste of what might await them in their careers. And there was no shortage of inspiration as they took in the exquisite creations of some of the city’s top female chefs from distinguished restaurants, bakeries, catering companies, breweries and other industry organizations across the province.

Another key highlight of the event, da Silva says, is that it allows female students to assert themselves professionally in a field that can be male oriented.

“There aren’t enough positive mentorship opportunities for female nutrition or culinary students, or venues to promote and celebrate women in the field,” da Silva says. “So it behooves the college to promote these events and get female students involved.”