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Chef Don Guthro supports the industry from within by providing financially accessible culinary training that his students can complete while working full-time in a restaurant.
Our Restaurant Awards celebrate the very best of the city’s culinary scene—quality ingredients, perfectly executed techniques and elevated innovations from Vancouver’s most talented chefs. Food is an art, indeed, but it’s also an essential: an essential that many of us can take for granted.
When you’re a chef working in a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, trying to puzzle together a budget and implement a plan to properly feed those in need, the necessity of food—and cooks—becomes much more apparent. The winner of our 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award, Don Guthro, was leading the kitchen team for a North Shore nonprofit in 2007 when he decided the industry needed a shakeup. And, like all great capers, he made it an inside job.
Guthro started using the few resources he had to train beginner cooks, and served the food from that training to neighbours who accessed the shelter. This model became the basis for the North Shore Culinary Education Society of BC, founded by Guthro in 2010. “I saw a disconnect between what was happening in our industry and the availability of education and training,” he says. “There are people with lower income that cannot afford to go to culinary schools because of tuition costs.”
Working with local nonprofits, Guthro and his staff and students—all with fully sponsored tuitions—developed a series of efficient, hearty meal programs. At one point, they were producing 1,200 meals a day. “We focused on giving high-quality food to those who need it, and in the meantime gave our students an opportunity to work and learn on the job,” he explains. (All students were paid for their work.) His brick-and-mortar culinary school graduated over 700 students.
But that wasn’t enough. There was still a major systemic barrier to tackle: geography.
Guthro himself grew up in a farming community just outside of St. Marys, Ontario. He was raised by his mother and has four siblings: “There wasn’t much opportunity because we didn’t have a lot of money,” he remembers. After graduating high school early, he moved to Toronto to attend Canada’s National Ballet School (yes, this chef and Lifetime Achievement Award winner was also a professional dancer), and took culinary classes in the evenings. “I think that’s where my being a workaholic comes in—I used to do a lot when I was younger and I just continued that through my whole career,” he admits. “I work seven days a week, and it drives a lot of people around me crazy.”
And perhaps to honour that hardworking Ontario farm kid, Guthro launched D.I.C.E.D. (Diverse Innovation in Culinary Educational Development): a virtual cooking school. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the big city or a small community—we wanted to make the education accessible for everyone,” says the chef. D.I.C.E.D.’s online education program started in early 2020, before the COVID pandemic began. Remote learning, before it was cool.
D.I.C.E.D. intakes 40 students, three times per year. Participants must be working in one of the school’s partnering restaurants full-time, and practical exams are done under the expert eye of a mentoring chef. “We take care of all of the theory, lectures and videos,” explains Guthro, “but instead of the students having to travel to a production kitchen, the industry supports us from within.”
Students of D.I.C.E.D. continue to work full-time throughout the program, so the schooling doesn’t interfere with how the partnering restaurant runs their kitchen—and as the students progress, they can take on more responsibility at work. “At the end of the day, I just want the industry to understand that we are here to support, not to take away,” says Guthro.
Once graduated from the 40-week program, D.I.C.E.D. alumni can challenge their level 1 and level 2 certification in B.C. (the program follows all ITA certification requirements). And, all-in, participating in the program costs less than $900.
Guthro takes nothing for granted: literally, there are no grants involved. The chef keeps D.I.C.E.D. completely self-sustaining through the D.I.C.E.D Discovery restaurant at Jericho Beach, his executive chef catering service, a food truck and a recently launched knife manufacturing company called DICEDKnives. (And psst—he’s opening another restaurant, D.I.C.E.D. on Main, this May.) Profits from all of his endeavours go to keeping the school’s program up-to-date, and keeping tuition low.
“We don’t have a lot of marketing dollars—so, for me, getting to share what we do is awesome,” says Guthro (who, at the time of this interview, didn’t know he’d won our Lifetime Achievement Award). “I just like to keep quiet and keep positive.”
Sorry for putting you in the spotlight, Don—but you deserve it.
Looking for more Restaurant Awards winners? See all 70+ restaurants on the list.