She’s head chef for the Ramada Plaza in downtown Prince George. Marlaina O’Donnell’s path to that prestigious post started in the kitchen of the College of New Caledonia’s Professional Cook program.
O’Donnell assumed top-level responsibilities at the Ramada in 2018. Circumstances – namely the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2019 and then the birth of her second child a short time later – led her back to CNC as a part-time instructor in the very same program from which she graduated 10 years ago. O’Donnell has seen the program from every possible angle, and, no matter how she slices it, she sees incredible value.
“It really sets the foundations before you step into a role,” she says, speaking from the point of view of a head chef who started on the Ramada food chain as cook’s helper. “When someone tells you, ‘I need a Mirepoix cut,’ you know exactly what you’re doing. It’s like being in a different country, if you don’t know the language.”
From the perspective of a former student and now teacher, O’Donnell has seen firsthand that the one-year CNC Professional Cook program can literally take a person anywhere in the industry and world. As one example, she points out that the current sous chef at the Ramada is also a CNC product. She also mentions CNC graduate Garett Blundell (2006), who went on to work in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in London, England, including Maze by Gordon Ramsay. Currently, Blundell is Executive Chef at The Victor, a critically-acclaimed steak and seafood establishment at Parq Vancouver hotel.
O’Donnell’s own career started while she was still in Level 1 of her program at CNC. She wasn’t far into the 2010-11 school year when instructor Ron Christian set her up with the cook’s helper gig at the Ramada. From there, with CNC training as her bedrock and her on-the-job experience ever-increasing, she ascended to third cook, second cook, first cook and then sous chef before she finally landed the job as head chef.
“I never would have had the job at the Ramada if I didn’t come to CNC,” says O’Donnell, who grew up glued to television’s The Food Network and joined the Professional Cook program fresh out of Prince George’s Kelly Road Secondary School. “I am so thankful. I’ve done a lot of cool things, I’ve worked with a lot of good people. It’s been a ride, and it’s been great. I have a huge passion for the industry.”
O’Donnell says it’s a fast-paced industry and one that’s in a perpetual state of change – another reason why the CNC Professional Cook program is worth its weight in freshly-filleted Pacific salmon.
“It’s huge for students and people to understand that there’s always something new to learn,” says O’Donnell, a certified Red Seal chef since 2013. “When it comes to cooking, yes you do the program and you learn all those fundamentals and you learn a ton of stuff, but it doesn’t stop there. You’re going to keep learning for the rest of your life because everything is changing constantly. There’s new equipment that comes out to make cool new things, there are new styles for doing things. That’s what’s really awesome about this industry – you can’t get bored.”
Next start date: Fall 2021
Fees: Estimated at $7,155
Learn More about the Professional Cook Program
Read more about the program, admission requirements, and learn how to apply.