While I was in Vancouver, I had the opportunity to check out a children’s cooking program called Project CHEF: Cook Healthy Edible Food. I heard about Project CHEF after reading a fun, delightful book called “French Kids Eat Everything“. The book tells a story about how the author moves to France with her family and experiences the French culture around food from an ‘outsider’ perspective.
Needless to say, I knew I had to read it. Especially given the fact that I had recently come back from a trip to Paris and was impressed at 1) how well children behaved in restaurants and 2) how food was truly appreciated, respected and celebrated. I figured the French were onto something. The author of the book, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, returned to Canada and started seeking out places where children could learn to appreciate and respect at an early age. One of the programs she mentioned was Project CHEF.
Project CHEF is a travelling cooking class where the director, Barb Finley, and her team of chefs visit school classrooms and teach cooking classes to elementary school children. The usual program runs for one week where a classroom of students take anywhere from three to five cooking classes throughout the course of the week.
While I was in town, Project CHEF happened to be doing an in residence program – an extended version of their program where there entire school gets to participate in Project CHEF cooking classes. Classroom curriculum also ties into cooking and food at this time so art classes have students painting carrots and beets and bowls and plates are made in their pottery class. They even write about food for creative writing and put together a menu of different meals from various cultures for social studies. At the end of the residency program there is a big school wide celebration/assembly.
Parent volunteers are welcome to help out during the 1.5 hour cooking class as well. I helped out with a grade 1 class that made pizza and a grade 6 class that made pasta sauce. It was great to see each group of students working together to make a meal and learning various skills along the way.
What makes this program unique is Chef Barb’s approach. She was a teacher before she went to culinary school and includes several teaching moments in the class to tie into other areas of curriculum such as math (how to divide a pizza into halves, quarters and eights), chemistry (how baking powder works) and what a vegetable is (an edible plant that doesn’t have seeds) versus a fruit. She also brings in visiting guests such as Ocean Wise, chocolatiers to talk about how chocolate is made from bean to bar and even Olympic athletes who talk about the importance of a healthy diet.
And before everyone starts eating she encourages a student to volunteer how to say “enjoy” in another language (eg. bon appetite, kali orexi). She also provides table topics for the children to discuss while eating. And everyone is responsible for setting the table, doing the dishes and cleaning up!
What’s truly impressive is that funding for the program is done through grants, foundations and private donations which Chef Barb applies for each year (the program has been running for 7 years with a number of other spin off projects that are currently underway). Right now, there are more schools who want to participate in the program than spots available (it’s the equivalent to a three year waiting list) so participating schools are chosen by a lottery.