Special cooking class gives young P.E.I. students an appetite for learning

Boys and girls in the Cooking Together program at Georgetown School in P.E.I. are not only learning useful kitchen skills, they’re also showcasing their talents by feeding their families and fellow students — making everything from blueberry smoothies to pasta Bolognese.

“On one day, three participants come to make healthy snacks for the whole school,” said Red Seal chef Amil Zavo. “On another occasion, three students cook a meal that they share, so everybody in school enjoys a free lunch. And on another day, we make a nice meal that students take home for their families.”

On the afternoon I visited the school, three Grade 7 students were making lasagna to take home to their families.

“I told my parents that tonight we were bringing home food for them and they were super excited they’d be able to try it,” said 11-year-old Gabbi King.

‘Tasty and local’

The Cooking Together program at the school was funded by a $4,000 grant from the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture, after Zavo and the King’s Playhouse across the street applied under Community Food Security and Food Education.

“It came out of need and necessity,” Zavo said. “I moved to Georgetown about 2½ years ago. I wanted to see how I can apply what I know to the needs of the community and needs of the school.

Zavo explains to the young chefs they can eat well, even on a tight budget. “I’m known for being able to open the fridge and making five meals of what you have, and be tasty and local and healthy.”

Eleven-year-old Mattilda Gotell has already learned how to make granola bar snacks for fellow students, while Eden Boudreau has made mini pies — with no sugar.

On this afternoon, Eden is anxious to whip up a pan of vegetarian lasagna for her family.

“I know my parents have really enjoyed me being in this program to get the experience of cooking, so that it’ll help later on,” she said.

Once the three students don their aprons and chef hats, they wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Chef Zavo then shows them how to safely peel carrots, chop onions, and shred cheese. The girls add a bit of cooking oil to the frying pan, and stir up the veggies. After pouring tomato sauce over the veggies in a pan, and adding layers of lasagna noodles, the students have a prepared meal to take home.

Eden is impressed, not having done much cooking at home. “Probably just because I haven’t taken the time to do,” she said. “I’d probably, just say,’Oh I’m hungry, I’m going to go make myself a sandwich,’ but with this program, since I’m learning how to cook all these things, I know what to add and how much to add, I can cook more often.”

Matthilda’s previous culinary talents included opening a can of soup. “Before this program, I didn’t really know how to cook as much as I’m learning to now.”

“It’s just like a great way to know what’s going into your food, to know how healthy it is,” Eden said. “It’s not just something that you buy from a store.”

Chef Zavo is also pleased with the results.

“I love how much they enjoy cooking, really putting their heart into this process. I notice a huge sense of pride of their work. I see that they take ownership and they really enjoy doing it.”

Zavo would also like to offer the cooking program to lower grades at the school. “There’s no reason why we can’t do it for 4 and 5, 6. Anybody can cook.”

Meanwhile, Zavo just got word from the kids who took home the lasagna. And it appears they couldn’t wait to eat it.

“I got the feedback from the families … none of them waited a day to eat it! They loved it!”

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