The local food movement has boomed over the last decade as the environmentally minded realize that importing faraway ingredients is not sustainable.
At Thompson Rivers University's culinary arts department, that realization has led to beehives on the roof, composting with scheduled pickup by local farmers and plans for a 20,000-square-foot teaching garden with vegetables, herbs and indigenous and medicinal ingredients right outside the culinary building.
The trend is growing, but what many foodies don't know is that aboriginal delights are about as local as it gets.
That lack of awareness is changing fast in large part due to chefs like Ben Genaille, who is joining TRU in launching a 13-month aboriginal culinary arts program for 2013-2014.
Born into Manitoba's Cree heritage, Genaille's upbringing consisted of hunting, fishing and foraging.
Hunting down a rabbit and cooking it over an open flame was just a way of life when he was eight years old.
He never equated it with aboriginal cuisine until many years later, after he'd mastered the craft of cooking and became adept at all sorts of styles, including French, German, Italian and Greek.
"As a chef, you get a foundation in cooking, you understand your craft and then your creativity starts to kick in," he said.
Genaille's creativity led him right back to his roots. But since First Nations history is traditionally oral, unearthing the old ways wasn't as easy as it would be with written cultures.
"I had to talk with elders and find out that way."
Aboriginal cuisine involves techniques such as pit cooking, preserves, stews and smoking. But
always at its roots are the indigenous ingredients.
"It's fascinating when you start to unfold it and research the information, the various ingredients that have always been here," he said.
Genaille broke traditional First Nations food down into four categories — earth, water, sky and land.
"If you start thinking about things that are water and have always been here that nobody's brought over — clams, geoducks, the list goes on and on. Getting into the earth, the root vegetables, parsnips, potatoes. Then there's the berries the nuts, pine nuts, things like that have always been here."
Four years ago his investigation morphed into an aboriginal culinary course curriculum at Vancouver Community College and later on, led to two trips to the World Culinary Olympics.
Genaille says he's thrilled about coming to TRU because Kamloops provides such a rich bounty of sustenance and easy access to pristine nature.
"In Vancouver it's hit and miss . . . you go to UBC Farms you dig a pit, do some pit cooking, smoking," he said.
"Can you imagine (here) going out into the woods and snaring a rabbit on your own and cleaning that animal and using the hide for something, using the bones for something?
"Every chef in the world would love to do that."
TRU's culinary arts program emphasizes the use of local, organic and sustainable food and Genaille's recipes complement that philosophy perfectly, said chef instructor and culinary department chairman Ed Walker.
Every dish prepared by TRU's culinary students for the cafeteria and for their famous multi-course dinners is made from scratch, said Walker.
He reiterated how perfectly suited the course is to TRU's surroundings.
"This is the best place to be a chef, it really is. Between here and Osoyoos, we have everything for food."
Also the timing couldn't be better, said Walker, as restaurants in Kamloops and across North America increasingly embrace local and organic recipes.
Both chefs say they accept some responsibility for the way eating habits declined in terms of health and sustainability. And each is trying to now influence trends in the other direction.
"Let's face it, restaurants teach the public how to eat," said Walker. "So back in the '80s when we were doing our apprenticeships, we were taught that it was a good thing to get anything you could the next day from
anywhere around the world. So we taught the public that that was OK.
"Now it's our responsibility to turn that around and teach the public that we need to start eating local."
Walker is part of Farms2Chefs, a non-profit organization formed with other chefs in Kamloops.
The group now involves 50 local chefs and farmers all making it easier to get local foods into local restaurants. That also includes wineries, breweries, spirit makers and even musicians.
Farms2chefs and the increasing attention professionals are paying to the issue have led to a noticeable change, said Walker.
"In the last five years in Kamloops, if you walk down Victoria Street, I guarantee you that at least half the restaurants have something local on their menu."
That connectivity only continues to grow with the introduction of Genaille and his curriculum.
Genaille brings even more prestige to TRU's culinary arts department with an impressive culinary pedigree spanning back 29 years.
While at Vancouver Community College, he forged an opportunity to elevate the profile of aboriginal cooking to the world stage.
He decided in 2007 that his students would benefit from joining the Canadian national culinary team at the World Culinary Olympics.
"It's the biggest show in our field," said Genaille.
It took a little convincing and a lot of training, but in 2008, student chefs from VCC travelled with the team as its support crew.
"The aboriginal group that went along touched every piece of food that they put out," said Genaille. "We helped them with everything."
The Canadian team won five gold medals that year.
In 2012, Genaille returned to the World Culinary Olympics in Efurt, Germany, but this time the aboriginal team stood on its own.
They brought such treats as herring eggs, salmon roe and pheasant, and prepared a platter with each of the five salmon species in B.C.
No medals were conferred but the experience was unprece-dented, said team member and former Genaille student Faith Vickers.
"It's one of the biggest learning experiences I've ever had cooking," she said.
Since graduation, the 27-year-old Coast Salish native has catered events and worked for restaurants with menus entirely dedicated to aboriginal foods.
"I find people are very, very receptive towards it and very, very interesting," she said. "I'm seeing it more and more all throughout the country."
Vickers has just been hired on at a Kelowna restaurant.
Genaille's program includes classical training for a foundation that fulfills all culinary needs. But the additional aboriginal component gave Vickers a sense of where she comes from and, she added, it's actually
"It's a way to get in touch with your roots through food," she said. "And Chef Ben is an amazing, amazing chef."