Culinary arts dream comes true with Songhees, Camosun College partnership

Sam Charlie is eager to bring his passion for cooking to culinary arts training at the Songhees Wellness Centre.

The 33-year-old is one of 24 Indigenous students who will be involved in a new project bringing together the Songhees Nation and Camosun College. Funding of $655,000 over two years for the project was announced Wednesday at the Songhees Wellness Centre by Melanie Mark, B.C. minister of advanced education, skills and training.

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Funds came from the provincial and federal governments.

“I’m excited to be in the program,” Charlie said.

“I’ve been cooking since I was about six years old.”

The funding is part of $21.1 million being spent around the province in the next three years through the Aboriginal Community-Based Training Partnerships Program. Of that, $7.8 million will be given out on Vancouver Island.

The Songhees Nation and Camosun bring a well-established relationship to the project, said Geoff Wilmshurst, Camosun’s vice-president of partnerships.

“It is a relationship that is one of deep respect, friendship and mutual commitment to our community,” he said.

“It’s a connection that has helped us nourish and learn from each other in how we can create culturally significant and industry-relevant educational opportunities.”

Songhees Coun. Gary Sam said the announcement “honours partnership, hard work and dedication, and all who dare to dream together.”

He said the money comes as the Songhees food business is thriving, with the success of an events and catering enterprise and the Songhees Seafood and Steam food truck. Sam said that more staff is needed for those endeavours.

Wilmshurst said the Songhees/Camosun project, which offers training in hospitality and tourism management as well as culinary education, is unique with its Indigenous focus. Students will receive 12 months of training and will be taught at the Songhees Wellness Centre, which has a fully equipped commercial kitchen.

The training will be open to all Indigenous students across B.C., he said.

“We believe this collaborative program will provide Indigenous students with the culturally relevant and hands-on skills, tools and knowledge needed to excel in today’s tourism and hospitality sector, and to build careers that will last a lifetime.”

Songhees executive chef David Roger said the Songhees Wellness Centre can do a plated dinner for 500 and a reception for 600 to 700, making it the third-largest facility of its kind in the Victoria area.

There are 16 staff members, a number that will almost double once the new round of training begins.

He said he likes the fact that the training offers more than culinary subjects.

“It’s a great way for people to find out what they’re looking for in the industry,” he said.

“The hospitality industry is so large that there’s so many avenues that they can explore.”

More than 6,200 job openings are expected to come up within 10 years in the accommodation and food-service sectors, according to the province.

Songhees pastry chef Rachel Robinson, who said Camosun has provided her with sound training, praised the government funding.

“I find it very important because we need to bring more of the First Nations youth into programs where they feel inspired to do creative things.” she said.

The Songhees also received funding this month with $93,410 in federal money for the Songhees Innovation Centre, which is geared to helping Indigenous entrepreneurs.

jwbell@timescolonist.coms

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