It was organized chaos in the George Brown Culinary School’s cooking lab, as dozens of children ran around the kitchen, competing in the Chopped55 cooking program finale.
Roden Junior Public School turned up the heat to take home the top prize but, at the end, each child took away an essential life skill – how to cook.
55 Division Constable Glen Pablo, who started the program, says cooking is a great way to bring people together, regardless of prior skills.
“A lot of the programs that we tend to start, and run, are more geared towards the athletically inclined whereas, this year, I thought, let’s come up with a program where some of the kids who don’t like sports might be able to participate,” says Pablo, who consulted Kira Guthrie from the PC Cooking School, and was funded by Pro Action Cops and Kids – a charitable organization that links youth with police officers.
Thirty-six children from six different schools participated in the 13-week culinary program. They worked alongside a teacher from their school and a police officer from 55 Division. The classes took place at the PC Cooking School, with the finale being held at George Brown College.
As the children entered the kitchen, new bonds were formed with the officers, chef mentors and children.
“I think the kids see us in a different light. We come wearing T-shirts and jeans and interact with them and they learn your first name instead of your last name and I think they feel a lot more comfortable with me now. To get them out like this, is something totally different than what we have done before,” says Constable Jen Germaine, who worked alongside the students from Morse Street Junior School.
For 10-year-old Elani, the best part of the whole program came on the last day, when she was able to grill on her own, without help. She also enjoyed making Italian cuisine,
“We learned how to make noodles from scratch,” said the grade five student, as she grilled beef.
For her classmate, Joe, it was good to be able to hang out with his friends and police officers, too.
“I liked to cook and spend time with my friends and get to know the officers. They aren’t like cops or have special powers, they were just acting like normal people,” said Joe, who said he was close to mastering cooking.
With his newfound skills, the 10-year-old said he was able to recreate some of the dishes at home for his family.
Chef Carmen Jeffery, one of the judges, entered the kitchen to watch the children during the cooking stage, and was delighted to see the 10-to-12-year-olds running around the kitchen, chopping, cutting, stirring, baking and plating.
“I think this is a great program! I think children of all ages should be cooking. It’s a life skill. When these kids go to university, and they are on their own and their mommy or daddy aren’t there to cook for them, they are going to have to do their own and I think teaching them nutritious and healthy good tasting recipes should be started right at the beginning.”
Constable Kathleen Hansen loved the experience, working alongside children from Leslieville Junior Public School.
“I think this is probably one of the best kids program I have been involved in. They have so much fun and they get to eat what they cook and they learn to work together and improve their kitchen skills,” Hansen says.
In the end, it boiled down to three schools: Roden, Dundas and Leslieville Junior Public Schools.
And while Roden took the prize, Judge Chef Anne Yarymowich thinks everyone won.
“I think there is nothing that builds team spirit and community like cooking together and breaking bread together. You see it in small families, right up to huge communities. When people get together to cook together and eat together, there is something that bonds people for life. It is one of the most cementing activities that life can give us, it is truly a joy,” says the Chef, who also acts as a Judge onChopped Canada.