Where Urban Meets Farm: Cooking Up Community, continued
No Experience Required
Montie Bannick joined the community kitchen at the Little Mountain Neighbourhood House Society in Vancouver out of necessity. After a relationship ended, Bannick realized that his lack of experience in the kitchen made it difficult to prepare healthy meals for his 4-year-old son. “I needed to learn how to cook,” he says.
Photo courtesy of Fresh Choice Kitchens
The cooking component of the workshop gives facilitators firsthand experience on what it's like for their participants, who must cook with someone they don't know in an unfamiliar kitchen.
Over the past year, Bannick has learned to make several simple dishes, including Chinese food, a cuisine he used to think required ordering takeout. Reading recipes, sautéing vegetables and learning about cooking oils has helped Bannick build his confidence in the kitchen.
“I learned that, if I’m not familiar with something, all I have to do is ask, and someone will explain,” he says. “Everyone learns from each other. It’s a great place to connect with people and connect with food.”
“In a community kitchen, individual contributions are honored,” Collis adds. “Everybody gets a chance to learn; everybody gets a chance to teach.”
As a culinary school grad, Ryan Miller knows his way around a kitchen. He agreed to lead the community kitchen at Pike Place Market in Seattle, hoping to inspire members to cook healthy meals while learning new skills.
During the monthly community kitchens, a handful of members with varying levels of experience come together to cook everything from lentil stew to caramelized-onion hummus. While less-experienced members are always invited to take an active role, most prefer to stick with washing produce, setting the table or packaging leftovers, so it surprised Miller when one of the less-confident members of the Pike Market Community Kitchen volunteered to take ownership of a roasted vegetable dish.
“By the end of the night, she was calling herself ‘The Roasting Master’ because she was so proud of her dish,” Miller recalls. “A lot of people are really surprised by the results because they’re not used to eating fresh foods they cooked themselves.”
At their next gathering, The Roasting Master proudly told other members that her accomplishment in the community kitchen inspired her to try roasting vegetables at home, where she experienced similar success.
Even Geleva, an experienced cook who often prepares meals from scratch, admits that she has learned a lot from participating in community kitchens. Cooking with a diverse group of members has allowed her to expand her recipe repertoire, attempting dishes like eggplant Parmesan, which she often ordered in restaurants but never attempted in her own kitchen. “Cooking is a very transformational experience,” she says.
Collis believes that community kitchens help communities reclaim the lost art of food preparation and preservation in a culture that has traded home-cooked meals for the convenience of packaged dinners. With the goal of helping members build skills and increase their confidence in the kitchen while inspiring them to recreate the recipes (and experiment with other healthy dishes) at home, community kitchens also support local agriculture, including urban farms.
Photo courtesy of Fresh Choice Kitchens
After cooking together — and just before eating, the community kitchen leaders reconvene to discuss their cooking experiences and how they could apply their new-found knowledge to their community kitchens.
“Community kitchens and urban agriculture are mutually supportive — a beautiful marriage,” Collis says, noting that some kitchens partner with community gardens or orchards to provide fresh produce for communal meals.
The popularity of community kitchens in North America has increased as more people show interest in cooking from scratch, shop at farmers markets and grow their own food. Over the next few years, Collis expects to see even stronger connections between urban farmers, farmers markets and community kitchens.
“You can’t encourage people to grow their own food without giving them information about how to prepare and preserve it,” she says.
Most community kitchen leaders develop relationships with local farmers and food co-ops and choose recipes that emphasize seasonal ingredients to ensure their kitchens support the local economy and promote sustainability.
“I believe in having a local food system,” Geleva says. “If we source our foods [locally] and eat them here, we’re supporting our community.”
Duboff agrees. “Food is an important part of sustainability,” she says. “Community kitchens are not going to save the world, but we try to have an impact with a single meal.”
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