“I dream of starting a restaurant. Or at least to get a chef’s degree or something like that – that’s what I want to pursue.”
Colton, 16, Waywayseecappo First Nation
Culinary arts for Indigenous youth: Waywayseecappo First Nation
When Colton enters the kitchen, his love for cooking comes alive. He proudly dons a white double-breasted chef’s jacket, employs knife-cutting and cooking techniques, and helps to manage the line.
With the smell of onions sautéing and the swiftness of vegetables being chopped around you, you could easily be convinced you were sitting in a five star restaurant in Winnipeg’s Exchange District or at the Forks.
And while you very well may find Colton in a five star restaurant in a few short years, today at age 16 he’s learning the skills he needs in a culinary arts course with his peers. He’s been attending the unique course offered through Waywayseecappo First Nation’s off-campus program. This past year, Canadian Feed The Children partnered with the community on this initiative for Indigenous youth.
Learning something new
“I enjoy cooking – it’s one of my favourite things to do, because my dad was a cook in town here,” Colton said, explaining where his passion started. “That’s what got me into cooking, it was him.”
Colton has learned a lot from his teacher Drew Van Landeghem who helps guide the course. Van Landeghem is a grade 9-12 teacher at Waywayseecappo Off-Campus through a partnership with Park West School Division. The flexible off-campus program, which aims to create a positive and rewarding space, allows students to join the sessions when it works best for them and earn a nutrition credit while learning.
“Before I went to culinary arts, I didn’t know how to cook for myself actually. It’s helped, because at home I didn’t know how to cook this or that,” Colton told us. “My family likes it when I cook stuff up at home. They say that [I’ve done a good job] because when I do cook at home and I suggest a few meals, they are surprised and [they think] it’s delicious.”
He has recently discovered his love for steaks – now understanding the science behind cooking them – and likes trying out new salads, which he makes up regularly for his family.
Colton’s favourite part of the course has been exploring new food and recipes, while spending time learning with friends. He’s also been able to practice with the real tools of the trade: “I’ve enjoyed the new equipment,” he said, pointing them out, “like those knives and cutting boards and everything.”
Cooking for the future
For a humble young man who doesn’t like to think of himself as professional yet, Colton believes that without the course, he wouldn’t have ended up as experienced in cooking. He thinks programs like these should be more widely available, because more cooking experience would be great for his community and others.
Teacher Van Landeghem agrees. “The students are very much enjoying the course and we are also seeing a lot of interest from the rest of our students as well,” he reported. “There is definite interest in a second offering within the class. Many of them are hoping to get the chance to participate.”
Colton has big plans to use this course as a launching pad for his future culinary career, telling us, “I dream of starting a restaurant. Or at least to get a chef’s degree or something like that – that’s what I want to pursue. These things they’re teaching helps me a lot, and my future.”
He also has advice for other Indigenous youth who are thinking about pursuing culinary arts: “If you enjoy it and you really want to be a chef, then commit to it. If you enjoy it, it will be fun. Enjoy what you do.”
The partnership with Waywayseecappo First Nation is part of Canadian Feed The Children’s Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds 2020 initiative, funded by the Slaight Family Foundation and generous private donors.
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