When construction began on the Horodynsky Community Kitchen within Innisfil's new Rizzardo Health & Wellness Centre, the town developed a number of programs to make good use of the new facility, to boost food literacy and accessibility among vulnerable populations.
One such program is “What’s Cooking, Innisfil?” — cooking classes that use the Canada Food Guide and local produce to promote healthy nutrition.
The program has three goals, explains Sara Corcoran, health associate and program co-ordinator. It seeks to remove barriers that prevent residents from accessing nutritious food, provide an opportunity for participants to learn new food skills, and finally, “build community.”
What’s Cooking, Innisfil? was envisioned as a way to address food security, food literacy and physical health, but also mental health – creating social interactions, in a positive environment.
And then COVID hit.
Instead of holding classes in the community kitchen, the program shifted to an online virtual format, with classes accessed on the Rizzardo Health & Wellness Centre’s YouTube channel.
The idea was that participants would sign up, pick up a food box containing pre-proportioned ingredients at the Horodynsky Community Kitchen, then tune in to follow along as the “chef of the day” demonstrated how to prepare a family meal for four.
Corcoran has been the chef for many of the classes, working out of the Horodynsky Community Kitchen. The program has also welcomed guest chefs, who have the option to work from their own home kitchens.
Those guests have included Coun. Alex Waters, local baker Alexia Hawkins of Baked with Love by Lexie, who taught a gingerbread cookie class at Christmas, and Barrie's Roxann Whittingham, entrepreneur-owner of Ms. Hotty Hotty Jerk Marinade, who prepared a jerk shrimp and spaghetti dish.
“We’ve also had other community members,” says Corcoran — just ordinary residents with a recipe to share.
She says there's a process to follow before a volunteer chef is accepted for the program. Corcoran will meet to check the proposed recipe, making sure it feeds a family of four, requires only standard equipment, and uses ingredients that “aren’t outrageously expensive.”
Since the first class in December 2020, What’s Cooking, Innisfil? has become increasingly popular, with between 15 and 20 participants signing up for each 12-week, six-recipe session.
“Most are families,” says Corcoran, adding it has been fun to see kids in the kitchen, helping to prepare the meals.
“The feedback so far has been really incredible,” she says.
Not only has the program introduced new recipes, it has also introduced some unusual local and seasonal produce — like Jerusalem artichoke, which became the focal point of a pasta dish.
"It's a whole new vegetable that we don’t use every day,” says Corcoran. “I have my own favourite recipes, but it’s really fun for me to get some new recipes in my food repertoire.”
New foods, new skills and the answer to the dreaded question “what’s for dinner?” — What’s Cooking, Innisfil? has also helped to battle the isolation produced by COVID restrictions.
“Especially at the beginning of the program, it gave participants something to look forward to,” she says.
Last fall, the town was able to briefly introduce in-person cooking classes at the Horodynsky Community Kitchen, with special sessions geared towards seniors and teens – before the Omicron surge forced a return to virtual programming.
Now that restrictions are easing, Corcoran has high hopes that the cooking program will be able to return to an in-person format for the next session, in March. Enrolment for "Cooking Up Community" — inviting participants age 55 and up into the Horodynsky Community Kitchen to cook together and then share a meal — is now open.
“Having people in the kitchen adds that social element, which is so important. It also offers more opportunities to ask questions and interact," Corcoran says.
Members of Innisfil council were recently invited to a preview of the upcoming Cooking Up Community session. They were joined by Boris Horodynsky, owner of Horodynsky Farms, whose $1-million donation to the Rizzardo Health & Welness Centre made it possible to complete the community kitchen.
The group toured the kitchen, then rolled up their sleeves and prepared a meal of lemon and feta-baked chicken and vegetables, which they shared.
In addition to What's Cooking Innisfil? and Cooking Up Community, other programs include Kids' Lunch & Learn Kits, the Senior's Food Box, and Sustainable Food Champions, for teens ages 13 to 18. For more information, click here.
All of the programs are free, thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Commonwell Mutual Insurance Group's Learning and Engagement Accelerator Fund, and support from local businesses like Cookstown Greens and Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, which have provided supplies and ingredients.
Coming up: In March, What’s Cooking, Innisfil? is partnering with the Innisfil Seed Library for a "Cook-Along Dinner and Movie" during the Library's Virtual Seedy Saturday on March 26.
What’s Cooking, Innisfil? invites registered participants to prepare a recipe inspired by the film, Modified. Just register for a food box (availability is limited), then tune in to the Rizzardo Health & Wellness Centre’s YouTube channel at 1 p.m. on March 26 for the cook-along, to prepare Quebec-style yellow split pea soup.
Pre-registration is also required to view the film 'Modified', at home any time on March 26. Click here for more information or to register.