Cameron Garvey wields a sharp kitchen knife and in a fluid motion trims chicken breast, thinly slices garlic into ribbons and then chops parsley. The First Colonial High School senior glides through the kitchen with ease, picking up white wine, butter, lemons and capers while the sultry scent of chicken piccata dances in the air.
Here, in a kitchen, Garvey is most at home.
“I’ve been cooking since I was seven,” he said. “I was visiting my grandparents and I wouldn’t stop talking so my grandma put me to work making the Polish version of beignets. My job was to twist the dough.”
Garvey has come a long way since that first venture into baking. He’s dedicated nearly 900 hours at the Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education Center and is happiest in the hot side of a kitchen where recipes are flexible and flavors can be changed with the slightest of seasonings. If you make something too salty, Garvey said, you can do something to balance it out and change the entire flavor. And making mistakes in the kitchen has taught him that you don’t give up; you keep trying and keep improving. It’s a lesson that can be applied to all walks of life, he said.
“I used what I learned about cooking in my high school career to help me stay on track with my school work,” Garvey said. “Just like you can’t say you don’t like something until you’ve tried it, you can’t say you aren’t good at something in school until you’ve tried and given it your best.”
As he headed toward graduation this year, Garvey set his sights on the exclusive culinary apprenticeship program run by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. More comfortable in a kitchen than in a classroom, Garvey showcased his talents at the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) Scholarship Competition and earned a $60,000 apprenticeship with the Colonial Williamsburg (CW) program where he will learn the ins and outs of the restaurant business. CW operates the only chefs’ apprenticeship program in the state that is accredited by the American Culinary Federation and accepts just a handful of budding chefs each year.
Garvey will have to dedicate more than 6,000 hours of training over the next three years and attend more than 576 classroom hours at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College to successfully complete his apprenticeship. During his time in Williamsburg, he will be introduced to numerous cooking styles and techniques, and will work in eight of the foundation’s restaurants.
It’s a baptism by fire that Garvey can’t wait to experience.
“The great thing is that you can do whatever you want with food; it’s like an artist with a blank piece of paper who can draw anything they want,” Garvey said. “I see the ingredients the same way. I dabble, I play with ingredients the way artists do with colors and I get to create something new.”
Ultimately, Garvey would like to be an executive chef in a Michelin star restaurant where fine dining and the finesse of plating food is key. He hopes to move to Washington D.C. or New York City to work under the best chefs in the country.
But no matter where he lands he will always send care packages to his mom, he said, so she doesn’t miss his cooking too much.
“There are still some Thanksgiving dinners in my future,” Garvey said. “I wouldn’t want to disappoint her!”
Compass Keeper Q&A:
What is your favorite television show?
Chopped and all the Gordon Ramsey shows.
What food have you tried that most teens probably haven’t tasted?
Foie gras which is made from liver. It’s good, it melts in your mouth.
What is your favorite book?
“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain
What is your pet peeve?
When people use my knives without asking and when people ask the same question over and over again when it is an answer they should know, like how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.
What is the best kitchen advice you can give someone just starting out?
Learn how to be good with a knife, know the proper temperatures and don’t take it too seriously; food is supposed to be fun!