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Our Northern Lights: Leslie Munch

Our Northern Lights is an initiative that illuminates our people, their stories, and celebrates their achievements. We hope that their journey will inspire others to pursue their dreams and make a difference in the world.

You’d be hard pressed to find a student better prepared for a cook training program than Leslie Munch. She’s worked everywhere from small concessions to 200 person camps, and even runs a catering and food truck business, Love to Munch, with her family. She is currently enrolled in NLC’s inaugural offering of Professional Cook Level 1 Indigenous Content as part of the ‘Rising Bears’ cohort.  

Leslie had hoped to take the cook training program with her mom Audrey Munch in 2016, but life took an unexpected turn, delaying her education. She made the best of it, working in a multitude of kitchens. One of her clearest memories is working as a short order cook at the GDI Restaurant one evening when there was a concert in town. The restaurant was short staffed, and it was down to Leslie and her coworker to hold down the fort.

“It was so busy for three hours straight, I didn’t even notice the time. We did it all by ourselves. Our tickets were building up and the other cook, she was getting overwhelmed. So that’s when I said ‘Okay, let’s switch,’ and I was able to catch us right up and then all the food just floated out of the kitchen.”

Leslie was already used to high-pressure kitchens by then. She had spent time cooking in work camps that ranged from 35 to 200 workers starting at the age of 22. In the smaller camps there were only two cooks and Leslie worked as second cook.

“I was responsible for the salads, the sandwiches and all the desserts. The main cook cooked the whole main meal and did his own prep cooking which was nice because then I would have the whole lunch to take care of and the bakers table to take care of. I learned a lot and it was interesting.”

She was second cook in the larger camps too, and remembers cooking breakfast for the 200 workers.

“There were times where I was thrown in there in as the Baker. As the Baker, you bake all night long and then you cook a breakfast for 200 people, and I mean a full buffet: bacon, eggs, toast, French toast, and pancakes. Then there’s the hashbrowns, the scrambled eggs, the ham, sausages, everything. You have help, but you’re the one who’s cooking it.”

Then there’s the outdoor pit cooking and that is my favorite part. We’ve done rabbit on there, we’ve done elk ribs out there and I think if someone really wants to be connected to the culture, they should come and do this program.”

Even with all that experience, Leslie learned a lot from her Indigenous cooking class. The three month course includes the foundations of NLC’s cook training program and incorporates Indigenous teachings and traditional food cooking methods.

“For me this course has been so knowledgeable because a lot of people, they don’t know their culture and they don’t know protocols. We’re learning the traditions and all the teachings. I believe coming into the Indigenous content of this course  opened my eyes. We learned the teachings of the medicine wheel and the foods for healing. We have had the elders come in. Then there’s the outdoor pit cooking and that is my favorite part. We’ve done rabbit on there, we’ve done elk ribs out there and I think if someone really wants to be connected to the culture, they should come and do this program.”

It would be remiss to tell a story about Leslie without also mentioning her prize-winning crumble that won her team first place at the Fusion Faceoff cooking competition in March of this year. She first made it 19 years go and offered to make it as a cheesecake topping for the Fusion Faceoff dessert round. The crispy and crunchy topping stayed crisp on the dessert, wowing the judges and earning the Red Team the top spot.

Be sure to head over to the Dawson Creek Coop on May 7 from 11:15am-1:15pm to try some culinary masterpieces cooked by the Rising Bears and to get that crumble recipe! In the meantime, to learn more about Leslie, read on!

What is your first NLC Memory?

In 2018 I was invited to be a teacher for beading classes. I had a group of ladies that would come and join a Wednesday night group. Passing my knowledge on was a great achievement.

Another memory is a most recent one. I started a program called Professional Cook Level 1 training with Indigenous Content, a pilot project combining Indigenous culture through teachings from the Elders, learning traditional ways to prepare food, gaining valuable cultural knowledge.

What do you do when you aren’t studying?

Spending time with my family, who are my biggest support system while I am on my educational journey.

When I’m not studying I am involved with catering. My mother started a catering company in 2018 called Love To Munch Catering Services! We have worked various jobs at events, parties and weddings.

I also have a passion for Indigenous crafts and beading. I am self taught, I take great pride in the skill and technique that it requires. Beading keeps me grounded and I feel connected to my ancestors. I feel honored and proud with every piece I create.

What has been the best part of your program?

Being involved in the 2024 Fusion Faceoff! That was amazing to be a part of. We were split into two teams, Red Team and Blue Team. Both teams did phenomenal in the cooking challenges. We were tied in our appetizer and entree rounds!!!

When it came to the dessert round that was my time to shine! Our team came up with a deconstructed cheesecake.

I made a brown sugar crumble that put our team over the top. Hearing the judge’s comments on how crispy and crunchy the crumble was made me proud! I was in awe that I was able to produce a item that had such great feedback!!! Definitely one of my proudest moments, as our team won! The winner was announced at a 150 person Gala dinner that both teams, our chefs and caterers put on. It was a five-course plated dinner.

It was great experience to be behind the scenes, an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Being filmed in the kitchen was also a great experience! We also got to meet a Top Chef Canada winner Dale Mackay!!! He made us feel comfortable, his presence was very humble, and he taught us many new skills.

What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in one year? How about five years? My next step is getting into the Professional Cook level 2 & 3 programs! I want to reach My greatest achievement, to become a Red Seal Chef! In five years, I see myself running my own kitchen.