Fresh off a sugar high from Hallowe’en night before, eight students, all between 10 and 11 years old, come bouncing through the doors of the Sunshine Kitchen, a meeting and classroom space at 292 Gower Point Road in Lower Gibsons, nestled between Coho’s commissary kitchen and Brassica. The students are vibrating as they compare candy hauls and costume details, while Cheryl Chang, founder of Nourish Eatery and the program’s instructor, reminds them to wash their hands before the class begins.
This class is one in an eight-week program created in partnership by Chang and Coho Gibsons as a means to encourage youth to discover new foods, learn the skills of healthy cooking, and to inspire them to get involved, perhaps even take charge, in the kitchen at home.
Today’s lesson: Baked focaccia bread garnished with olive oil, salt and rosemary, with a savoury potato and spinach spread, topped with artichokes and roasted brussel sprouts.
Predictably, the mention of the latter ingredients has some faces recoiling, but Chang’s quick reaction, “What’s the one rule of this class?” is returned with a unified, high-pitch response, “You must try everything at least once!”
The rest of the lesson goes relatively to plan: Chang instructs the students to prepare by gathering the Sunshine Kitchen’s supplied tools and equipment, and to begin washing the produce; she demonstrates the use of a manual can opener and how to safely open a large tin can. Next, the class starts an induction burner to boil the potatoes. Chang had already prepared two loaves of focaccia in the Kitchen’s convection ovens, to both show the students the end goal and entice them with the aroma.
While some students are busy honing their newly acquired knife handling skills, others are learning to use activated yeast for the first time and how to properly knead dough. It’s evident some students have taken some of these new skills seriously, as one student informs her cohort members that their dough requires another dusting of flour, and another hollers “Behind! Knife! Behind!” as they make their way across the room, knife in hand.
The room changes from laughter to squeals of excitement when it comes time to tasting the result of their hard work. While some are on the fence about the spread, and others undecided about their opinion of artichokes, nearly the entire class agrees that the bread is a winner and will take the remaining dough to bake at home.
Chang wraps up this week’s class by having the students clean-up their stations: “Never put a sharp knife in the sink! Always put it where it can be seen.”
Finally, as parents begin arriving for pick-up, the students jot down the recipe and cooking instructions in their notebooks. A quick survey of the room with questions such as “What is your favourite thing about this program?” and “What is the neatest thing you’ve learned so far?” is met with “Free food!” and “I know how to make chicken!”
It appears the Sunshine Coast is the newest home base for the next generation of Michelin Star chefs and food entrepreneurs.
For more details about future cooking classes and other Sunshine Kitchen events, follow Coho Community - Sunshine Coast Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/800035601077658.