NIC welcomes Japanese-trained chef to its instruction team

Avi Sternberg was the first western student to enrol at Osaka’s Tsuji Ecole Culinaire

North Island College (NIC) has welcomed another chef to its ranks to help with their Campbell River-offered tuition-free prep cook program.

“We are excited to welcome Chef Avi Sternberg to our team of excellent culinary instructors at NIC,” says NIC’s Dean of Trades and Technical Programs Cheryl O’Connell. “His knowledge and expertise will be of great value to students.”

But success didn’t always come easily for Sternberg.

He was the first western student to enrol at Osaka’s Tsuji Ecole Culinaire (a branch of the elite TSUJI Culinary Institute focusing on specialty cuisine) under a cultural study visa. He earned his diploma – but had to work for two years in Japan first just to learn the language and get into the program.

It was a stark change from his high school years in Colorado, where he had worked part time in local restaurants. In university, he studied Spanish history, language and culture – a world poised to take him away from culinary arts forever.

In his third year at UBC, Sternberg stopped for a meal at a sushi restaurant and became transfixed by a chef who moved, as Sternberg describes it, with the grace of a ballerina. He knew he wanted to learn the craft of Japanese culinary arts.

“I had an epiphany,” Sternberg says.

The epiphany led him to apply to the TSUJI Culinary Institute, with help from his Japanese girlfriend (now his wife). He was accepted to the school, on the condition he meet Japanese language proficiency standards.

In the fall of 2001, a week after 9/11, Sternberg flew to Japan to prepare for his training. By December, he had failed his Japanese proficiency exam and found himself stuck in a new country with nowhere to go. He called a former professor with contacts in Japan. The connection helped him secure a job at Chitosekan, a traditional Japanese Inn in northern Japan.

Two years later, he emerged with sharpened Japanese training and language skills to began his studies at TSUJI.

Upon graduating, he mastered the attention to detail and knife skills that define Japanese cuisine, earning certification to serve the poisonous blowfish, deadly if not properly prepared, but loved for its novelty and enjoyed for its meat and gelatinous skin.

Sternberg trained in Japan for four and a half years after earning his diploma, including a stint as an apprentice at Wa Yamamura, a three-star Michelin Kaiseki (traditional multi-course) restaurant.

His resumé includes tours of culinary duty at various BC restaurants, setting up his own catering business, consulting, teaching and earning his (Interprovincial) Red Seal and Chef de Cuisine.

He also found the time to pen a memoir and reflection on cooking, Itamae: My Life in Front of the Cutting Board.

Now, Sternberg brings his passion for culinary arts to NIC, combining regional knowledge, cooking techniques and local ingredients with his passion for sushi, traditional Vietnamese dishes, Jewish deli food, Ethiopian and French cuisine and more.

He wants to help students navigate their path in a demanding profession, known for its celebrity chefs and intense working hours. “My goal is to work with each student to find the right fit, so they can find sustainable, long-term success and growth,” he added.

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