Dimitra’s Cooking ClubFri 03 Jan 2014
Story by Dimitra
I believe meals should be simple and pure. Ingredients are best when bought from local farmers whenever they can be. Healthy, nutritious meals can be beautiful in their presentation and delightful to the pallet. I am a chef and a hospitality and culinary arts teacher, and I’m proud to pass on my passion for cooking.
Our culinary department’s kitchens are the daytime home of more than one thousand students and staff in the not-quite-new northern suburbs of Toronto. The neighbourhood is a rich mixture of families; many of them recently arrived in Canada.
The culinary program (which includes a strong baking component) is identified here as Hospitality & Tourism, a Technological Studies course. With three teachers and a staff of Food Program Assistants focused on preparation and serving, our students are immersed in the creation and selling of lunch every day in the student cafeteria and the staff dining room. It’s a living laboratory in teaching, feeding and inspiring. Added to this are the opportunities for new ingredients, dishes and combinations arising out of the kaleidoscope of cultures pulsing throughout this school.
I have two visions: the first, as a teacher, to see disadvantaged youth gain the benefits of education; and the second, as a chef, to see PPM 15 – a policy requiring that only truly nutritional foods be sold in Ontario schools – finally become second nature. The link is the knowledge that healthier students are better learners. Fortunately, I have some program tools to use.
This school is alive with specialty programs, combined (in the best cases) to ensure that no student is left behind. The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, for example, is a cooperative-education program in skilled trades that allows students to apprentice and at the same time earn credits toward their Ontario Secondary School Diploma. And new this year, the Hospitality Specialist High Skills Major program (known as “Shiz-um”) is taking a core group of students and challenging them to achieve truly professional standards. With additional instructional time and new outreach activities, the students pursue multiple certifications. They’re able to practice and polish the cooking and baking skills required to succeed right away in the workplace or to pursue a top-flight post-secondary education.
All of our students are encouraged to volunteer in our kitchen for their Community Service hours, which are a requirement in Ontario for their diploma. Even better, they can earn Community Service hours by participating in our lively Recipe Share cooking club. The students, who are from departments all over the school, learn how to cook healthy and tasty meals, students sharing with students, peer mentors. Our regular food-service provider donates many of the ingredients. In our October “Recipe Share” cooking club, we made sausages from scratch! I knew this was going to be a popular recipe! Everyone had the opportunity to use fresh ground meats, herbs, spices, and dry fruit.
The next stage, a dream in the making, is to open Recipe Share to the community at large, where there are many more youths to be offered the benefits of better nutrition, their own culinary culture, and opportunities they haven’t yet imagined.
About the Author: Growing up in the family restaurant where fresh food was the center of my daily life, cooking becoming second nature to me. I was an apprentice working towards my Red Seal Trade Qualification and became partner in the two family restaurants. I am thankful to have worked with inspiring chefs. I have 2 adult children, Marina and Giorgio, who continue to inspire me. After a long and fulfilling career as a chef, I decided to follow my second passion, teaching. I returned to university to attain my teacher qualification and pass my passion for food and cooking to today’s youth.
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