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Instructor Michael Fitzhenry is helping run a pilot program at Red River College that will teach aspiring chefs how to cook Indigenous meals. (John Einarson/CBC) A maestro with the knife, Tamara Genaille chops her carrots with the deft touch of a seasoned veteran.

"This is gold," she said proudly, cradling diced carrots in her hand.

She’s attending a beginner knife-skills class because the former corrections officer envisions a new career for herself. A frequenter of the powwow circuit, the Winnipeg woman, who is a member of Rolling River First Nation, wants to go from powwow to powwow with a food truck.

"I haven’t quite come up with my menu yet," she told a visitor. "It’s only been three weeks." However, the menu is sure to include Indian tacos, soup, bannock and pickerel among other delicacies. Joseph Alex, right, demonstrates the proper knife-cutting technique to Roland Sutherland at a recent class. (John Einarson/CBC) For the first time, Red River College is offering a culinary skills program for Indigenous students such as Genaille. It adheres to the same curriculum of the college’s existing culinary program, but with a focus on culture and land-based curriculum.

The one-year certificate program is called Indigenous Culinary Skills.

"It’s a concept that hasn’t been explored," said Joseph Alex, a 37-year-old cook who is an educational assistant with the program. "There’s not a lot of Indigenous chefs out there. There’s not a lot of Indigenous cooking. The cuisine itself is unheard of."

The Winnipegger said he’s been challenged by other chefs who question why he isn’t cooking dishes customary to his culture. Differentiating himself

However, Alex grew up in a German-Mennonite home, and says the desire for traditional Indigenous dishes hadn’t caught on with diners until recently.

"Over the past year and a half, it’s slowly come to me that I need to establish some kind of an identity as a chef," said Alex, who is a member of Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia.

"Everyone can cook French food, right, but how many people can say they know how to cook a good piece of bison in Indigenous ways?"

Dmitri Seymour-Merasty, 21, grew up in Winnipeg but spent time in Hollow Water First Nation. The up-and-coming chef has limited knowledge of Indigenous cuisine, and says the local food scene would only benefit from new perspectives. Dmitri Seymour-Merasty has often been the only person of Indigenous descent at the kitchens where he’s worked. (John Einarson/CBC) "Nowadays, everybody is so out of touch with their culture. I feel like I almost know nothing about mine," said Seymour-Merasty, who is often the only person of First Nations descent at kitchens where he’s worked. "I’m very excited to start learning about all of our traditional teachings."

Michael Fitzhenry, culinary instructor at Red River College, says it’s a challenge to cook traditional Indigenous dishes when many of those recipes were never put to paper. The instructors are consulting with elders, residents and students to compile the recipes that were passed down through generations.

"We’re going to bring that together in kind of a collaborative exploration of what that cuisine looks like," he said.

Fitzhenry says Indigenous foods have been overlooked on menus, but the interest is growing. Winnipeg’s Feast Cafe Bistro is a byproduct of that, he said. Growing demand

"If we have people who have a little more knowledge of that cuisine coming into the industry, opening more Indigenous restaurants," Fitzhenry said. "There’s going to get a lot more exposure."

Fourteen students are taking the pilot program this year, Alex says, adding he’s thrilled to be part of the resurgence of Indigenous cuisine."You see them right now, they’re inspired," he said of the […]

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