Behind the Scenes at the Empress

image: Executive Pastry Chef D’Oyen Christie teaches young apprentices how to roll dough at The Empress

credit: Rebecca Baugniet

“I call it ‘Magic Dust!’” Executive Pastry Chef D’Oyen Christie said, tossing a pinch of flour in the air with a flourish. The children were mesmerized, and so was I. We were behind the scenes at The Empress, in the pastry shop that produces thousands of treats for their iconic Afternoon tea menu, and Chef D’Oyen was about to share a few of his secrets with us.

Having been greeted in the Library by Manager of Dining Services, Carmen Demedeiros, six eager pastry apprentices, spanning in age from 6-12, were each outfitted with their own embroidered apron, chef’s hat and kerchief. We walked through the Empress room, with friendly staff greeting the apprentices as they filed past. Once downstairs the group made its way into the pastry shop, where Chef welcomed each child with a handshake and a friendly smile. He then introduced the three chefs de partie, who were working on a Maccha cheesecake as the session began. D’Oyen Christie is a third generation chef, who studied at George Brown in Toronto, and has been stationed in the Empress kitchen for almost 18 years.

He is also a natural with kids. The first part of the class was an introduction to the two most important aspects of working in a kitchen; safety and sanitation. “We walk, sleep, breathe sanitation” he said, before sending the kids to the sink to wash their hands. The apprentices were then assigned stations and Chef introduced the equipment, showing how the industrial sized oven works, and demonstrating how fast the sheeter rolls dough.

The first lesson was in rolling the dough (hence the ‘magic dust’) offered with a disclaimer – “Maybe don’t throw the magic dust into the air at home – or your parents will come looking for me!” When there were only a few scraps of dough remaining, Chef rolled and stacked them, showing how the checkerboard cookies are made. Once all the cookies were cut and baking on their trays, Chef passed out strawberries. The stations were set with bowls of melted white and dark chocolate. “The chocolate waits for no man”, he joked as he quickly demonstrated how to first dip the fruit in white chocolate, then in dark. Rapidly rolling a pastry cone (or ‘cornet’) with parchment paper, Chef then taught the apprentices how to dress their strawberries in mini tuxedos.

At the end of the hour and a half session, each child had a bag of takeaway treats they had made themselves, chocolate covered strawberries and beautifully decorated cookies, as well as a framed certificate attesting to the fact that they had completed a pastry apprenticeship at the Empress.

The Pastry Apprentice program will be offered March 27, Apr 24, May 22 and June 26. Cost is $100 ($80 for Friends of the Empress). A special Royal Pastry Apprentice program will be offered Apr 10Click here for more information.


Looking for other classes to get kids excited about food? Find a few listings below.


Turn your kids “green” this spring at GRUBS Spring Break Camp with Lifecycles Project Society and the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre. This exciting spring break day camp offers fun and educational agriculturally-based experiences including: Exploring urban farms; building our own compost bins; playing with worms; learning about local food; planting seeds and growing veggies; arts and crafts; outdoor games and activities; big end of the week field trip; and much more!

Dates: Mon-Fri March 21-25

Time: 9:30am-2:00pm

Ages: 6-11 yrs

Cost: $175 (payment plans available).


Heidi Fink’s Cooking Camps for Children Aged 6 to 14

For the budding chefs in the family. Through a fun mixture of hands-on cooking, fresh recipes, and outdoor games, I teach the basics around kitchen safety, cooking/baking skills, cleanliness, and nutrition. Delicious healthy snacks, breads, cookies, and brunch food are all on the menu during the week as the kids measure, mix, chop, and cook their way through a host of delicious recipes. They build confidence in the kitchen and have fun while they are at it! There will be some snacks to take home and share with the family at the end of the day. March 21st to 25th, 2011 / 6 to 10 year olds: 9:00 am – 12:00 pm / 10 to 14 year olds: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm


Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (Vancouver)

Spring break teen camp 2011 is all about international cuisine. Join PICA for a week of internationally inspired menus along with a local tour of the Granville Island Public Market & Fishermen’s Wharf and Dining Etiquette Workshop and Lunch in Bistro 101 (Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts’ student operated restaurant).

Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

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