Chef Andrew George, Red Seal certified since 1989, has attained experience across Canada, from the Chateau Whistler Hotel to the International Tourism and Hospitality School of Quebec. Chef George is a Hereditary Wing Chief for the Bear Clan in the traditional system of the Wet’suwet’en people. He has worked diligently to give Aboriginal youth the tools they need for successful careers.
Indigenous chefs and foragers are passing on vital knowledge to students of a new professional cooking program at Okanagan College. Led by Indigenous Red Seal chef, Andrew George — who represented Canada at the 2010 Olympics — the university’s pilot program combines classroom education with apprenticeships and field trips to Indigenous hunting and fishing camps.
The 50-week, industry-proven cook training infuses Indigenous culinary techniques and ingredients into the standard curriculum of Okanagan College’s Culinary Arts Certificate program. Through an unprecedented partnership between a university, a government agency and First Nations communities, it also creates a clear pathway for participants to attain Red Seal certification.
“Red Seal certification is highly pursued around the world, particularly in cooking,” Chef George told Native Business. “The Red Seal is a trade certification that indicates that the trades person has demonstrated the knowledge required for the national standards of that trade. It also promotes excellence for the employer and instills pride in the worker and facilitates labor mobility. The Red Seal program started in 1952. I’ve had my Red Seal since 1989. I’ve been one of the few Indigenous chefs in Canada to have one. That’s what made me really want to pursue this program.”
On June 17, Minister Melanie Joy Mark, the first First Nation woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, spent time with the students at Okanagan College for the official launch of the pilot program.
Minister Mark shared on Twitter: “I love meeting students who are following their dreams & transforming their lives through education! The Indigenous Culinary Arts program at @OkanaganCollege is empowering the next generation of industry ready chefs & cooks. These are in demand careers. T’ooyaksim’ N’iisim’!”
Power of Partnership
Attempts to infuse Indigenous knowledge and tradition in culinary programs has been tried in British Columbia — always unsuccessfully, Chef George noted.
What’s going to make Indigenous inclusion in the trades different this time, is partnership.
Three vital parties came together to make the Okanagan College Indigenous culinary program happen: the Industry Training Authority (ITA), the funder and governing body for the apprenticeship; Okanagan College, the training provider; and Okanagan Training and Development Corporation, which represents 8 First Nations communities throughout the Okanagan Valley.
“The collaboration was absolutely critical,” said the Director of Indigenous Initiatives for the Industry Training Authority (ITA), Michael Cameron, who is Metis from Manitoba. “We also worked with the Okanagan Chefs Association; we brought them to the table.”
George emphasized: “I don’t think we can get anywhere without partnerships. What made this program really strong was a partnership created out of the needs of a Nation, a training provider, and provincial representative. We are building on everybody’s strengths, and not depending on one body to carry this out. I think the more programs we can build like this, the better the future will be for everyone.”
Cameron broke down how the Indigenous-infusion model works through Okanagan College’s Indigenous culinary program: “Our program standards group facilitated a two-day workshop, where we were able to take 30 percent of the current cook level one curriculum and enhance it with Indigenous knowledge from the Okanagan First Nations. Students will still complete the professional level one — but with 30 percent of the content being Indigenous knowledge. Ultimately, they will gain their professional cook certification with an Indigenous focus,” Cameron explained.
In addition to having direct access to Indigenous wisdom, students will learn the essential material necessary to pass their exams and graduate. “They will have a full understanding of all the program standards that have to be met to complete their professional cook certification. They will understand Indigenous culture, as well as French and other cuisines,” Cameron clarified.
Cameron is responsible for helping Indigenous people pursue trades and to achieve Red Seal certification through an apprenticeship process. Once a student obtains their Red Seal certificate of qualification, they can apply for Red Seal endorsement on a national level.
Cameron spoke with Native Business further about the significance of an Indigenous culinary program with the option and potential to work toward attaining Red Seal certification.
NBM: Why are you excited about this program?
“Part of the infusion of Indigenous culture is going to come from the communities and the elders of the communities. It’s going to come from the implementation of the understanding of the four seasons and how you harvest food around those times, as well as the four elements of Indigenous culture, which are the land, the waters and the sea, fire and the sky,” Cameron said.
NBM: The professional cook level one course will run the longest of the three levels at 50 weeks. How long will it take to graduate from this program?
“I think, ultimately, you’re looking at three years to complete your apprenticeship, because 20 percent is theory and 80 percent is working in the field in order to get your hours,” Cameron said.
NBM: Central to the impetus of this program was to inspire more Indigenous Red Seal chefs, right?
“Our goal going into this was to increase the number of Indigenous people going into professional cooking and ultimately becoming Red Seal chefs. As we started to roll this out, non-Indigenous people were coming to us and wanted to learn to cook Indigenous culinary, too. Non-Indigenous people want to learn it just as much as Indigenous people,” Cameron said.
NBM: Why is Chef Andrew George the most qualified individual to lead this program?
“It was Chef Andrew George’s passion that really got us to where we are, because he was the first Indigenous Red Seal chef in British Columbia. He wants to communicate his passion for cooking and for his people. He’s doing everything that he can possibly do to help Indigenous people in his trade to be successful in that trade. Hopefully this program will become the Red Seal program across the country, and it’ll be the foundation for people to learn to cook Indigenous food across Canada,” Cameron said.