Rob Feenie, one of Canada’s most recognized and celebrated chefs came to Nanaimo on Mar. 7 to announce a new scholarship for VIU culinary students. Feenie, who became the first Canadian to win the popular television show Iron Chef America in 2005, is part of the Cactus Club Café’s test kitchen where he permanently resides as the executive chef.

Feenie announced that Cactus Club is partnering with VIU to establish a $1,000 annual educational award for the university’s culinary students for the next three years.

“It’s an honour for me to be here on behalf of Cactus Club Café to help announce this partnership with VIU’s culinary program, Feenie said. “As one of Canada’s top employers for young people and a large employer of Red Seal certified chefs, we’re passionate about supporting the next generation of culinary leaders.”

He also shared his in-depth knowledge of the industry, giving a cooking demonstration on how to prepare braised lamb ravioli.

Feenie, who began pursuing his culinary career while on a high school exchange, is passionate about giving back to students.

“I was fortunate enough to get a government grant to go to school,” he says. “I don’t think that I would have gone to school without the grant—giving back means a lot to me.”

Debbie Shore, chair of VIU’s Culinary Department, says that the award is a great incentive for aspiring chefs. “[The award] gives them another reason to work hard and do their best,” Shore says.

“There is a huge benefit for all [culinary] students because they got to sit in on [Feenie’s] story and there’s no reason that can’t be any of their stories,” she adds.

Shore, who graduated from the VIU culinary program in 1979, says that she’s had a rewarding career in the industry and encourages students to continue to do their best.

“It’s absolutely insane that we got to meet [Rob Feenie],” VIU student Kurt Waddington says. “It’s crazy to think about that he is going to come see us and we’re going to get a couple minutes of his time.”

The 18-year-old recently completed his orientation into the program. Waddington is optimistic that Feenie’s presence at the institution will help VIU stand out in the culinary industry. “Chef Feenie’s [presence] shows how our program is progressing and that we’re not just a small speck in the culinary industry,” he adds.