Four students who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are set to graduate after receiving training at SAIT Polytechnic as they prepare to embark on a career in the culinary arts.

The 15 week kitchen education is the result of a partnership between the post-secondary institution, the Society for Treatment of Autism and The Ability Hub, which fills the need for prep cooks in the industry while providing the students with a start on a career path which embraces their strengths.

“Essentially, we’ve prepared them for a role as a prep cook in the industry,” explains instructor Andreas Pabst. “It’s of high demand. A lot of people in the industry are looking for entry level positions and a prep cook, which is essentially a support role for the chefs.”

“In my mind, it’s as important as any of the higher up positions.”

The program focuses on repetition and consistency and the students received training on kitchen safety and knife skills.

Colin Bradford, who will graduate from the program on Thursday, has been hired to work at a Montana’s Cookhouse restaurant where he will put his new cooking skills to use.

“It’s a good skill to learn and it’s a good skill to have, it allows you to advance your career opportunities if you want to,” said Bradford, between chops of celery as he prepared a platter for his graduation ceremony. “It’s kind of the beginning. It’s a nice place to start.”

Bradford says he’s eager to begin working in a restaurant.

“I worked for eight years at Calgary Co-op,” said Colin Bradford. “It will be a nice change in a different setting so I’m kind of looking forward to it.”

“I’ve never really cooked before so this is very much a new skill for me.”

Bradford says the steady paycheques will help him save money so he can pay his own way for his sister’s upcoming wedding in Mexico.

Mo Aladin, the president of Big Sky Hospitality which owns several Montana’s locations, says the graduates will be great additions to the restaurants.

“We’re going to take three of the students that have been going through the program and hopefully they’ll acclimate to our training program and getting into the restaurants,” said Aladin. “There’s an employment issue in Alberta so getting people is obviously critical.”

“We have several folks in our restaurants who have disabilities and they’ve worked out very well. You’re getting a very loyal, hardworking individual.”

Aladin says the company’s decision to employ the graduates on a guaranteed eight week placement is not an act of charity.

“It’s about getting new people into our restaurants. People who are going to be loyal to us, hardworking and show up on time.”

Given the success of the pilot, discussions are underway to bring the program back in the summer of 2015.