VIU Culinary Arts program in qathet region finds recipe for success

VIU Culinary Arts student Darlene Charlie making a sandwich in the Birch Tree cafe kitchen and smiling at the camera

VIU Culinary Arts student Darlene Charlie prepares food at The Birch Tree Cafe. 

October 13, 2022 - 3:00pm

The Birch Tree Café and Bistro gives culinary students hands-on training in a real restaurant.

After years of serving culinary creations at Brooks Secondary School, a move into a new space is proving to be a successful transition for Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) tiwšɛmawtxʷ (Powell River) campus Culinary Arts program.

The program moved to a new training facility and permanent restaurant space downtown, known as the Birch Tree Café & Bistro. The Bistro is entering its third season of serving community members fresh, local, ethically sourced dishes and specialty beverages made by Culinary Arts students and instructors.

Serving baked goods, sweet and savory pastries, specialty coffees and lunch, including dine-in and takeout, the Bistro is located at 6812 Alberni Street and is open from 8:30 am to 1 pm, Wednesday to Friday. Avi Sternberg, Culinary Arts instructor and program chair, said the café has received amazing support since the cafe opened to the public in November 2020.

“Moving to our new downtown location has created a renewed presence for the program in the community,” he said. “Students love the real-life training experiences and learning skills that they view as invaluable in preparing them for their future work opportunities.”

It’s also given Sternberg and students a chance to lend their support to high-profile events in the community. Last June, the program served as the primary caterer for the PRISMA International Choir Festival and has been invited to cater for the International Choral Festival Kathaumixw.

“Our experience with VIU Culinary Arts far surpassed that of any other catering contractors we have worked with over the past decade and has truly raised the bar,” said Andy Rice, Director of Marketing and Development, on behalf of the PRISMA board, staff and contractors. “The VIU students and instructors comprised a team that clearly took pride in their environment and cared deeply about the food they were creating.”

Birch Tree menu items change frequently and include salads, sandwiches, pastas, meats, seafoods, grains, legumes, breads, desserts, fruits and pastries. Students study and serve a wide range of ethnic dishes including Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Mediterranean, Indian, Italian and Indonesian cuisine during their one-year certificate program.

“Some of the most popular items we serve are the Mediterranean lunch bowl and the vanilla crème brule, although all menu items have been well-received after we have made small changes along the way,” said Sternberg, adding that their comprehensive menus are based on the integration of competencies required through the Professional Cook Industry Training Authority (ITA) program. “We try to introduce as many cooking methods, ingredients and dishes as possible through one fixed menu, which changes every two months, as well as our fresh sheets that change weekly.”

In addition to developing culinary skills at Birch Tree, students learn best practices for serving and drink preparation, as well as the principles of wine and beer pairings. 

“The model at Birch Tree Café & Bistro is unique,” said Sternberg. “By learning the many different parts to a moving restaurant, it opens up students’ abilities to fill many roles when they are employed in the future. If an employer is short a server or a barista, they can step in for either role at any time. The marketplace we are part of also houses a niche bookstore with an amazing selection of food-themed books, a bulk foods store, a kombucha brewery and two ice cream businesses. We are happy to have more opportunities for providing students with value-added workshops and visits to local producers.”

As for the restaurant’s name, it holds special meaning to Sternberg.

“We wanted to name the restaurant after something in nature, because it surrounds us here. The Birch Tree was chosen because it has symbolic meaning; it means new hope and new beginnings. The name reflects the start of a new journey for culinary students who enrol here.”


Media Contact:

Eric Zimmer, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.618.7296 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Culinary Arts | qathet | tiwšɛmawtxʷ campus (Powell River) | In the Community

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