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VIU students learn culinary skills at tiwšɛmawtxʷ campus

Program participants cook, study and run the Birch Tree Café

This spring, Vancouver Island University’s Culinary Arts program is launching a new accreditation at its local tiwšɛmawtxʷ campus: a Japanese authentic cooking skills certification. 

“This program is the only one in existence north of Los Angeles,” said VIU head instructor for culinary arts, and gold-level certified instructor for Japanese cuisine, Avi Sternberg. The bronze level-certification the students will be taking is one of only 12 in the world. Chef Sternberg studied Japanese cooking in Osaka, Japan, for eight years before joining VIU as an instructor, and he brought the culture of Japanese kitchen techniques and habits with him. “The chefs in a Japanese restaurant move around the kitchen, like a dance, and no movement is wasted,” said Sternberg.

The VIU professional cooking certificate is a Red Seal program that prepares newly trained chefs to work in a wide variety of places, including fine-dining and catering. Students and instructors run the Birch Tree Café on Alberni Street in Powell River. They learn not only how to be a chef, but also how to run a business, and host special food events, such as catering for a PRISMA [Pacific Region International Summer Music Association] event last year.

“Students have also learned traditional land-based skills, including foraging for edible plants and harvesting seafood, through a partnership with the Tla’amin community through their Traditional Skill Builder Program,” said Sternberg. “We encourage people to see this learning model as super-effective because the students are running a restaurant, and preparing all the recipes; this builds a bridge for entering a real-life work environment.”

Assistant chef instructor and pastry chef Kristine Morrow said the culinary school has a lot of support from Brooks Secondary School, and that they are looking to attract new students.

Beginning this month, students will learn Japanese knife techniques, fermentation and making Japanese sauces.

“I’m a little worried the students might be overwhelmed,” said Sternberg. “When I was training in Japan, I would practice knife skills every day; there is a lot to learn. Japanese culinary knife skills are considered some of the best in the world.”

Brooks is hosting an event on March 30, so students can find out more about the Professional Cook certificate program at VIU.