Traveling the World and Local Community Through Culinary Arts

submitted by Lakehead Public Schools

The Lakehead Public Schools Intermediate Culinary Program is an invitation for Grade 7 and 8 students to delve into a world of discovery, creativity, and experiential learning as children explore the world through cooking. Hosted in state-of-the-art kitchens at Hammarskjold High School and Kingsway Park Public School, all elementary students participate in a four-day-long culinary experience in Grade 7 and again in Grade 8 to take away a multi-layered collection of knowledge and skills. Three main themes emerge from the program: technique, culture, and community.

As the students begin their culinary study, they receive kitchen, fire, and food safety instruction complete with the knowledge on preventing food-borne illnesses, grease fires, as well as the importance of having a fire escape plan. The students learn and practice proper kitchen techniques, such as kneading dough and churning homemade butter, and use culinary terminology such as julienning vegetables and folding batter. The classes experience sweet and savoury ingredients and learn to make enjoyable dishes they can reproduce at home with their families. The program not only teaches popular and practical recipes including pizzas, muffins, and cinnamon buns, but it also features sophisticated recipes to use in preparing beautiful family dinners. For instance, it is not uncommon to see the Grade 8 classes make a meal of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, biscuits, gravy, with a dessert of blueberry cobbler with whipped cream from scratch. The classes are invited to enjoy their creations after their efforts; an experience often accompanied by a sense of achievement and a boost of self-esteem.

The program exposes the students to various cultural cuisines of the world, including Canadian, Indigenous, French-Canadian, Italian, Finnish, Asian, Mexican, and Australian gastronomies. Differences and similarities in dishes from diverse countries are discussed, such as comparing fluffy and thin pancakes, and Bannock and Mexican tortillas. The nearly identical ingredients in these comparable fares are met with differing cooking techniques to produce distinct results. The intricacies of the acclaimed Indigenous Three Sisters Soup is studied beginning with how the three main ingredients, beans, corn, and squash, are planted together to naturally encourage a bountiful harvest. The students learn more than recipes; they are taught the nutritional information of the ingredients and the cultural relevance behind the cooking methods.

The Intermediate Culinary Program covers many tangible teachings, yet some of the most memorable elements of the program are not taught but rather experienced. Once the students have completed the assigned recipes of the day, the class takes a moment to appreciate the skill, ingredients, time, and effort that went into the work. The students are encouraged to share their food as well as enjoy the dishes communally like a family eating together at mealtime. The community element to the program is enhanced by the partnerships it has with local organizations. Roots Community Food Centre participates by teaching the students that enjoying food entices all five senses. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit complements the program with the Safe Food Handling certificate awarded to Grade 8 students upon passing the exam.

Included in the learning is the value in supporting local growers and grocers. The program regularly incorporates the use of locally grown and produced ingredients, such as fresh eggs from Vanderwees Farms, potatoes from B&B Farms, and the internationally famous Heartbeat Hot Sauce.

Lakehead Public Schools’ Intermediate Culinary Program demystifies cooking, enhances the appreciation of world cultures, and emphasizes the importance of community. Students exit the program with the gift of lifelong skills and valuable information to use daily, resulting in a wholly rewarding experience.