BY JULIE CHENG
“It’s time for the magic ingredient,” says Barb. “This makes bubbles when you add water.” As she measures the baking powder into the bowl, the kindergarten students, all together, let out an awe-filled, “Whoa!”
“Now I’m going to show you a fancy tool: It’s your finger!” she says, waving her index finger in the air. “But it must be a clean finger.”
Another huge “Whoa!” fills the room as she turns the flour into dough with the fancy kitchen gadget that’s her finger.
Watching this animated woman in action is a real treat. You can’t help but think, “These kids are so lucky” and “I wish I learned to cook from her.”
These lucky kindergarteners from Graham Bruce Elementary are learning to cook from Barb Finley, a school teacher for 25 years who later became a chef and has taught at the Dubrulle Culinary Institute and the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver.
Barb started Project Chef in 2008 to teach children about wholesome food. This school year, Project Chef will run in a total of 14 schools in Vancouver, including Graham Bruce and Nootka schools, and cook with some 1,500 children and 800 parent and community volunteers—but there’s also a three-year wait list of more schools wanting this program.
At Graham Bruce, Barb and her team is running the Project Chef in Residence program, where they work for one month. From kindergarten to grade 7 and parents to teachers, everyone at the school learns to develop healthy attitudes toward food, make meals from scratch from whole foods, and, most of all, they learn that sharing food with people is a joyous thing. “It’s a total immersion,” explains Barb. “When the whole school is involved, that’s when magic really happens.”
The program buys local and organic as much as possible, from farmers markets. You can still get fresh greens in winter, says Barb. “Right now, there’s arugula and kale, and the wildest, wackiest carrots—the kids love them.”
From Day One, the kids commit to have “an open mind and an open mouth” – to try new foods. This week they’ve already learned to make Whole Wheat French Toast with Blueberry Sauce (which the kids “hoovered”), and Make-You-Strong Salad with Apple Juice Vinaigrette (one student said, “Chef Barb, I feel stronger already!”).
On the menu today is a dinner favourite: Speedy Whole Wheat Pizza. Barb’s staff, Brandon and Michelle, as well as volunteer Sharlyn and parent volunteers Sukh and Sonny, help the students as they grocery shop around the room and measure, mix, roll the dough and put their pizza together. The kindergarten chefs are excited with their pizza creations, saying it’s the best pizza ever.
Parent volunteer Sukh is the proud dad of two students at Graham Bruce. He says, “It’s a great program. The kids are having fun.”
Julie Cheng’s daughter, Kate, took part in Project Chef a few years ago at Grenfell Elementary. Kate would come home and talk about what she learned, like how to slice an apple so it looked like a star. Now a high school student, Kate is still cooking.
March is nutrition month and also Spring Break – the perfect time to cook with your kids! For recipe ideas visit projectchef.ca/blog/recipes/.
Copyright (c) 2014 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News