A four-month culinary arts program offered through Thompson Rivers University in Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley) culminated with graduation of 17 students last week.
“I’ve been teaching them a camp cook program,” said instructor Gerry Brandon as he and some of the students cleaned up the cooking kitchen at the band office on the Monday of the program’s final week.
Describing the course as a basic introduction to professional cooking, Brandon said the students also graduate with Food Safe, First Aid level one and WHIMS.
“If people are hiring these days they want those basic requirements, even for dishwashers,” he said. “And when they arrive on a job they have some basic culinary training.”
Brandon also repeatedly emphasizes food safety and encourages the students to spread the word.
“Preparing food is a major issue on First Nations reserves,” Brandon said, noting he is a member of the Dokis First Nation. “I’m a one of the scoop children and like those who went to residential school we didn’t learn a lot about food preparation growing up.”
Brandon said he trains the students with a core curriculum that gives them practical knowledge to work in a restaurant, however, traditional foods are talked about as well so that the graduates can also think on their independently in their own First Nation communities.
“Rather than open a can of pizza sauce they learn how to make it from scratch,” he said, recalling a student in another program who enjoyed learning how to make good and beautiful food.
“He was used to eating three (store bought) sandwiches but when we made our own bread for Reubens, with homemade thousand islands dressing and baked fries, he couldn’t believe how full he was.”
Brandon told the student the body craves real food.
The majority of the students in the class came from the local community, although three were from Yunesit’in and one from Toosey.
Jo-Ellyn Quilt is from Xeni Gwet’in and said she enjoyed the course.
“At first we cooked the basics and then we moved on to things like tiramisu,” the 21-year-old smiled. “We catered for loonie auctions and fundraising in the community.”
As she finished helping clean the kitchen after lunch, 41-year-old Rita Combs showed off a tray of cream puffs the students had made that day.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Combs said. “Gerry’s a pretty good chef so he’s taught us a lot.”
Combs is hopeful she’ll get a job cooking in a camp, she said.
Henry Marianne was busy inspecting strawberries before he placed them in the fridge.
They were going to be used for the graduation dinner the students would cook for themselves.
Agreeing with Combs he said the program was very informative.