April 19, 2013 - 3:21am

A new culinary partnership has emerged – the first of its kind in British Columbia. Vancouver Island University’s Culinary Arts program is expanding to Providence Farm in North Cowichan, offering food lovers a culinary experience with a social purpose.

The Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island, run by VIU, is a well-respected cooking school that annually graduates apprenticing chefs who, in turn, support the Island’s rich culture of fine dining.

Providence Farm is an organic, not-for-profit, therapeutic farm in North Cowichan that has held a lifetime mission of helping adults and seniors with developmental, intellectual, mental health and age-related illnesses.

Together, the two organizations have identified the perfect fit between their educational mission and idyllic learning environment, particularly with respect to their common values around education. From this vision, The Farm Table restaurant was born. The new restaurant opens to the public on Thursday, April 25.

Under the tutelage of Chef Instructor Allan Aikman, a class of 12 students began their culinary arts training in the Providence Farm teaching kitchen and dining room in February.

“This unique partnership offers students the chance to train in a farm-to-plate setting,” says Cowichan Campus instructional director Keith Chicquen.

“Our culinary students can observe one of Cowichan Valley’s local producers in action. Students engage in the planting, growing, and harvesting of many of the ingredients that will find their way into the menu at the new restaurant. Combine this with the beauty of the location at Providence Farm and we think it is a unique recipe for success.”

“Providence Farm has a strong commitment to community, and this partnership strengthens that commitment,” adds Providence Farm Executive Director Karen Bittner.

“This partnership gives the Farm and the people it serves an even greater opportunity to participate in a broader community. We can grow food for the restaurant and take pride in knowing our organic produce is being enjoyed by the community,” Bittner adds.

“Other therapeutic programs we offer will benefit as well, for example, the tables in The Farm Table restaurant were built by staff, volunteers and participants in the Farm’s woodworking program. What an incredible sense of accomplishment for our folks. I look forward to the opportunities this partnership might present for the people the Farm serves.”

Chef Allan Aikman is excited about teaching student chefs the fundamentals of professional cooking with an emphasis on fresh and local products in the new location.

“With the advent of the 100-mile diet and the slow food movement, the farm-to-plate cooking program offered at The Farm Table Restaurant puts VIU on the leading edge of culinary arts training,” he says.

Culinary arts students working at The Farm Table restaurant begin the program as Level 1 cook apprentices. They complete a work practicum and Level 2 technical training on their way to earning Red Seal Certification.

Upon completion of Levels 1 and 2, Cowichan graduates can join with the Nanaimo-based Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island (CIVI) to complete one more year towards a Culinary Arts diploma.

Up to last year, the VIU culinary arts program at Cowichan Campus operated out of the Frances Kelsey Secondary School dining room. Chicquen says the new location at Providence Farm is ideal for students because it is closer to the new Cowichan campus, giving students easier access to student services and the University itself.

In addition to offering a teaching kitchen and dining room, as well as space to grow local, healthy food, Providence Farm offers full banquet facilities and an outdoor wood burning brick oven.

VIU President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ralph Nilson says VIU is honoured to partner with Providence Farm in this new endeavor.

“The property upon which Providence Farm is located was settled in 1864 and a school was operated on the site for 100 years by the Sisters of St. Ann. Providence Farm was formed in 1979 and has been serving the Cowichan Valley for nearly 35 years. VIU was founded in the 1930’s. Together, these institutions bring more than 200 years of collective history and education to Vancouver Island,” Nilson says.

“When people think about the rich agricultural history of this island – from both the land and the sea – it makes sense that this fresh new concept of a teaching kitchen and farm-based restaurant would originate in the Cowichan Valley. In a world where food has become increasingly precious, food security a significant concern, and environmental sustainability of growing importance, The Farm Table restaurant is an idea whose time has come.

"It complements the sea-to-plate experience already available at VIU’s Deep Bay Marine Field Station as well as the culinary program’s home base at the Nanaimo campus.”

Vancouver Island Providence Community Association Board Chair Peter Bontkes is excited about this next chapter in the Farm’s history and its growing community.

“Since 1979 we have been operating creative and innovative programs at the Farm for individuals of the Cowichan Valley and, in partnering with VIU, we see expanded opportunities for the individuals we serve. Together, we are building a stronger and broader community.

“We hope the public will value the uniqueness of this relationship and how it positively supports and promotes learning and a sense of community on so many levels,” Bontkes adds.

The Farm Table restaurant’s grand opening is Thursday, April 25. The restaurant will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 pm to 9 pm. For reservations please call 250-597-0599.

To find out more about Providence Farm, go to or visit for further information about VIU’s Culinary Arts program


ABOUT VIU: Vancouver Island University is Canada’s west coast university. Known as a centre of excellence for teaching, learning and applied research, VIU offers a diverse range of certificate, diploma and undergraduate and master degree programs to more than 18,000 students on campuses in Nanaimo, Powell River and Cowichan, and at the Parksville-Qualicum Centre. For more information visit


Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6288 E: Twitter: @VIUNews

Tags: In the Community

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