On May 22nd, I began a 7-week cooking program with the youth from Y.E.P (Youth Empowerment Program) at the Rainbow Resource Centre. The Y.E.P program offers multiple sessions throughout the year for specific age groups with 15 participants per session. The sessions focus on LGBT2SQ+ education, including identities, allyship, health and wellness, and social justice.
The staff of Food Matters Manitoba has been involved with the Rainbow Resource Centre (RRC) before, we’ve attended some of their different training and workshops. Offering youth cooking classes, however, was a first-time collaboration between the two organizations. It was a collaboration that turned out as fabulous as I’d hoped it would!
On our first evening together, the youth and I shared the sorts of things we thought would be both fun and practical to make. We only had 7 weeks together and there were definitely more great ideas than what we had the time for. In this first week, we established a comfortable, safe, and tasty environment by learning each other’s names, pronouns, how to safely use a chef’s knife, and how to make a delicious homemade version of Mr. Noodles.
Week 2 brought us some delicious baked sweets that we’re calling No-Cinnamon Buns. One of the youths has a family member with a cinnamon allergy. Taking this into consideration, we learned some replacement choices for allergens. For this No-Cinnamon Bun recipe, we replaced cinnamon with cardamom and nutmeg for spice and added orange juice and zest to the cream cheese icing. The use of nutmeg and cardamom was magnificent (I recommend trying it!) and the cream cheese icing tasted just like an orange Creamsicle!
By week 4, we felt like taking on a bigger task and made tacos! We started by making our own fresh corn tortillas. We added lime juice and lime zest for an extra kick of flavour.
In week 5 we took on a baked rigatoni.
For our final lesson in week 6, we tempted the fates of time (we only had a 2-hour class…) and baked fresh bread! WITH yeast! It was magnificent! While letting the bread rise, we threw together a quick and delicious chickpea and couscous salad with a lemon vinaigrette (find out how to make it here).
For our final night together, the youth wanted a cook-off challenge. So a cook-off is just what we did! With 2 full kitchens at our disposal, the youth drew numbers which divided them into 2 teams. Both teams were given a handful of recipes and a table full of groceries to share. Not a single recipe had had all of its ingredients available, which meant that youth were forced to improvise (which not everyone has the confidence to do!) During the competition both teams took part in a mini pasta making workshop (thank you to our Pasta aficionado Colby for leading this one) and both teams included their homemade pasta in the final meals. While all of the youth enjoyed learning how to make the dough by hand and roll it out, one youth, in particular, was super excited about it. Making the pasta allowed this youth a way to connect with their Italian heritage in a way that they had not before.
The youth not only accomplished this cook-off competition with ease, they also created a fun, helpful atmosphere and made a total of 8 recipes and only 1 of which we had cooked together beforehand! The results were incredible! So incredible that our esteemed judges couldn’t pick just one winning dish!
Some of the youth had experience working in kitchens, and this became apparent throughout the program’s course, as they were always around to help other folks out (myself included!) and answer questions. On our final night, we had a group check-in, I asked the youth to share with me some of their favourite things throughout our time together. Some of those things were baking bread because it reminded some youth of their loved ones; baking the cinnamon free cinnamon buns, which one youth had already recreated at home; and learning that tea biscuits are actually a pretty easy bread to make. I think I can safely say, by the end of the final night, everyone would have added making pasta to that list of accomplishments! The thing that stood out the most to me, as well as to the Y.E.P Program Coordinators, was how, in just 7 short weeks, everyone’s confidence had grown. From hesitation in holding knives, to being able to improvise a recipe. From not knowing what to do with some food items, to knowing how to choose a replacement for them. This group grew by leaps and bounds, and it was apparent that they felt it too. As a member of the queer and trans communities, this program is so close to my heart. Seeing the confidence in this group grow in just 7 short weeks burst my heart wide open. And I can’t wait for more collaborations to come!
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