Mary Rose and I accepted invitations to the wrap-up meal served at The Agape Centre building at Fifth and Augustus Streets, on Monday, August 25. As we arrived, we could sense the excitement in the air. Young folks accompanied by parents and grandparents were rushing toward the entrance . We were greeted by young, smiling hosts and hostesses welcoming us at each doorway, then invited to sit where we wanted anywhere among tables long or small. Bulletin boards displaying photos of participants and their cooking projects were scattered around the room. Festive decorations were everywhere and the tables were set beautifully. Trays of veggies, fruit, crackers, cheeses and dips sat temptingly near the front of the room.
We were welcomed by Director Alyssa Blais, who explained the program to us, then introduced the Program Facilitator, Margaret Malyon and her team of volunteers. The Program was divided into 2 levels: Curious Chefs for 7-9 year olds, and Around The Table for 10 and 11 year olds. There were 5 classes per session with 8 sessions, and 8 to 12 students studying each session. This was all made possible by funding from the Royal Bank (RBC) and Food Banks Canada.
Classes focussed on healthy eating, eating local products, safe food handling, introduction of new foods, presentation, the importance of families preparing and eating food together, and lots of fun cooking and eating. When asked, the kids loved to explain some of their methods. One favourite seemed to be chicken nuggets they prepared from raw chicken breasts. They “team explained” it to me : “First we cut the chicken into small chunks and nobody got cut ‘cause we were really careful. Then we dragged these chunks through eggs we stirred with forks. No, we didn’t add milk to the eggs, but it was a little gross. Next we dipped the pieces into crushed up pretzels. Oh yeah, we smashed the pretzels with a coffee mug first. Then we baked them on a cookie sheet with some foil on top. If we didn’t eat it all we could bring some home to Mom. We got the recipe too.” They were so proud of all they tried and all the methods they learned.
Young people passed around trays of goodies before supper, and were proud to explain the different foods and how the dips were prepared. They also served water then fruit juice with special attention to the people at their table. We sat with Merrick and his grandmother, Karen; he took very good care of us! He was eager to answer our many questions and loved describing the food art they prepared with different ingredients.
Part of the excitement of the day was thanks to the chef who prepared the amazing meal with these young assistants. Chris Barque of Bar Q fame donated his time (an entire day), skills and energy to preparing an amazing meal of sausage-stuffed chicken breast, wrapped in Swiss chard, with a delicate sauce, couscous with 6 kinds of beans, and two types of carrots, and oh, yes the kids told me Chef Chris went to a farm to pick fresh “patty pans” for the dish. (Google tells me that’s pattypan squash!)
Our table host, Merrick, waited in line then served us our plates when ready. Later, he got back in line to get our marvelous dessert, peach and pear crumble with ice cream. The children were encouraged to take home any photos of themselves. They were in no hurry to leave, and seemed to treat everyone as friends. They would all come back next year if they can! Kudos all round; we were so impressed!