By: Liam Berti

For the last six years, Allen Holtz has organized, coordinated and hosted a fundraising dinner for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at Algonquin’s Restaurant International.

While that may be remarkable in itself, Holtz has a personal motivation for being the chief architect of an Evening with the Culinarian Stars: he was diagnosed with ALS in 2005.

On Jan. 21, fourth semester culinary management students joined forces with some high profile chefs at the Restaurant International to prepare a seven-course meal for the sixth annual event.

The dinner was held to raise money and awareness for ALS, while the students prepared the meals with professional instruction from some of the top chefs that Ottawa has to offer.

“The idea of pushing the students outside of their comfort zone is definitely important,” said Jason Zavits, Algonquin professor and Chateau Laurier banquet sous chef. “The students get to expand their knowledge a little bit more, and you have the chefs coming in to teach them fundamental skills.”

Second-year student Eric Chagnon-Zimmerly was the student chef of the day and contributed his own recipes that he developed during the fall semester. Chagnon-Zimmerly is the first student chef in the history of the event to have been given that distinction.

“I think I’m getting a much more realistic experience by cooking for over 100 people,” said Chagnon-Zimmerly. “I like the pressure, I work better under it and it motivates me a lot more.”

Executive sous chefs from the Delta Ottawa City Centre, National Arts Commission, bistrofiftyfour and Rideau Carleton Raceway took part in the event, each contributing a recipe for the menu. The chefs then paired up with students, passing along skills and techniques of the trade.

“I look at this event as a passing of the torch,” said Greg Ryall, executive sous chef at the Delta Ottawa City Centre, who sponsored a pork tenderloin dish for the event. “I have a ton of knowledge from working in the industry over 25 years, so this is an opportunity for me to pass my knowledge on.”

The dining room was given a detailed explanation of each course by the students who created it, giving the students the experience of catering to a larger party than they are used to.

“You have to send good food out and make sure there’s no issues, so it’s always a huge responsibility,” said second-year student Kalpesh Jain. “But they were a really welcoming crowd, and I love doing this because there are so many things you don’t know about and so many things you can learn.”

Holtz, a former teacher and retired president of the Canadian Culinary Federation, was incorrectly diagnosed with ALS in 2005. He was later diagnosed with cancer of the throat and tongue instead.

Despite the new diagnosis, he still remains committed to ALS awareness because of the support he received in his initial treatment.

“Because of the help and assistance in my diagnosis of ALS, I was committed to bring more awareness to the disease in Ottawa than was ever done before,” Holtz explained. “At the time when I started the event I was the president of the Chef’s Association in Ottawa, so I thought what better way to promote the presence of Algonquin College and the students at the same time?”

In total, 107 tickets were sold for the event and more than $7,000 was raised for ALS research.