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Culinary campus will be for all: GPRC

by Evan Matthews | reporter@fitzhugh.ca

With potential for a world-class culinary institution in Jasper well established, some restaurateurs in the community want to know a bit more about what’s cooking.

Grande Prairie Regional College’s (GPRC) president and CEO Don Gnatiuk says the school is working on the technical aspects related to identifying appropriate facility designs, programming and curriculum, and equipment needed in order to operate a school in Jasper.

Nothing has been finalized in regards to GPRC’s proposed culinary-centred campus for Jasper. Questions around how the school would be administered or how it would deal with challenges such as housing, and fair and open access to student interns for business owners, but Gnatiuk says those steps will come later in the process.

Unanswered questions

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, three local business owners expressed concern to over which restaurants may or may not have access to potential GPRC student interns, as well as concerns relating to the school’s core curriculum.

“It’s a great thing for the community, to have a school that represents one of the main industries and experiences in Jasper,” one owner said. “But I’d like to see it more about people learning and being educated on the culture and respect for food, as opposed to just being a business tool to (staff businesses).”

The GPRC says the school has not received any calls directly from locals, but in any case concerns are not falling on deaf ears.

With a local advisory committee formed in December 2016 — to help GPRC address the need in Jasper for a culinary institute — Gnatiuk says the school is working to alleviate similar concerns.

“Initially, we had broad community input, but when we formed the committee we had to form it around those in the know — the industry savvy (folk) — the Chamber (of Commerce), the town,” says Gnatiuk, adding the Legion had played a role early on because of its potential to house the facility.

“Parks Canada is going to have to deal with approvals… and the rest of the (committee), by and large, are the hoteliers and restaurateurs. We needed to have them in the room to help us understand what the need was. They’re the ones teaching and hiring these students,” he says, adding he was uncertain of the exact number of advisory committee members.

The Fitzhugh was unable to confirm any other details about the composition of the board before press deadline, but spoke to a GPRC communications officer on Thursday morning and will have an update next week.

Gnatiuk says the process of developing a curriculum, which the advisory committee played a role in, included many local restaurants and professionals too. The exercise is nearing its end. The aim is to have a proposal relating to GPRC Jasper ready to submit to the provincial government by the end of February.

Access to student interns

Another major concern expressed among the owners is that businesses have equal opportunity and access to the school’s student interns.

However, despite the specific businesses having already been included in conversations, Gnatiuk says something to the effect of an integrity board — separate from the board of governors and advisory committee — would oversee governance and administration in the future.

“How do we deal with access? How do we govern that? Do we need to have a (board) in Jasper who governs this process?” asks Gnatiuk. “It’s been discussed as an issue, but to no resolve just (yet). Regardless of what business you’re in, this is a community thing. This has to work for everyone. If it doesn’t, it’s going to fail miserably.”

Gnatiuk added while the advisory committee can always use strong and passionate community voices, the process is at quite an advanced stage, and a lot of catching up would be required in order to get up to speed.

Background

In 2015, Gnatiuk says the community of Jasper — mainly the Legion, at that time — expressed (to GPRC) interest in developing a world-class culinary institution.

In May 2016, GPRC hosted a roundtable session with representatives from the Jasper town council, Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, Jasper Legion, Tourism Jasper and Parks Canada in Jasper to determine the level of support to proceed with the project. GPRC called this phase one.

It included a combination of surveys and one-on-one interviews to assess the level of commitment in the community, the programming needs, and the current reality of the local industry to determine the viability of the project, according to GPRC.

In November 2016, GPRC launched phase two.

In December 2016, GPRC formed a community advisory committee to guide the project through the final phase of what the school calls “the exploratory project.”

The second phase of the project involved studying program options with “experts in the culinary education training field, considering potential options for the physical space needed in the community and creating an active, local advisory group,” according to the GPRC website.

GPRC funded the initial $150,000 study to assess the level of commitment in the community, the programming needs, and the current reality of the local Jasper culinary industry to determine the viability of the project.

The final report concluded that a need exists for a culinary program to play a role “in a refresher of the culinary experience for Jasper visitors, and to fill an urgent need for skilled culinary staff.”

The college’s report also found the community support is significant due to business owners have long-standing challenges attracting and retaining qualified staff.

GPRC submitted the final report to the Government of Alberta to gather additional input on the College’s and community’s next steps.

More information is available on the GPRC website.

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