Fitting 15 people into the kind of kitchen you’d find in any regular old house is no easy feat, but it’s not one that appeared to faze lead cook Andrew Christie.
Chili was on the menu for the Oct. 4 morning’s free cooking class as part of the Gordon Neighbourhood House West End Food Festival and Christie, wearing camouflage pants and resting on crutches with a foot in a cast, led the charge at 11 o’clock sharp.
Within minutes, everybody was at their stations. A retired physician, who wanted to learn how to improve upon the only thing he knows how to cook on his boat, was in charge of cutting onions. Four women from Mexico, three of whom are grandmothers, took over the cooking of the meat and vegetarian chili, making sure the choppers knew to cut out the garlic heart — the part they say is responsible for garlic breath. Christie led another group to make his favourite part of the meal — cornbread — all the while enthusiastically punctuating cooking instructions with “Alright!” and “Awesome!”
The cramped quarters made the mix of cultures all the more evident. The women from Mexico, having been in Vancouver as long as four years and as short as one month, spoke in their rapid-fire Spanish. Over at the cornbread table a French-Canadian woman struggled with opening a jug of milk.
“It’s because they only have bags of milk in Quebec, not jugs!” explained a fellow standing next to her. Klara Silva, originally from Slovenia, said she volunteers at the Gordon House to give back because the neighbourhood house was so helpful to her as a young immigrant to Vancouver in 1980.
And this is the impetus behind the community kitchen class, said Gordon Neighbourhood House executive director Paul Michael Taylor.
“Food is a mechanism which brings people together,” he said. “We can learn from one another, share and have intelligent conversations, and build community.”
The West End Food Festival is a first for the Gordon Neighbourhood House. The four-day festival started with a yard sale/barbecue, a walking tour of the neighbourhood’s community gardens, a Tin Pan Chef competition where two chefs made a meal out of a box donated by the Vancouver Food Bank, and ended with Monday’s panel discussion on food security. All in the name of food, and that’s something that Taylor, who previously worked for the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, feels is important for West End residents.
“The Downtown Eastside has a strong, cohesive, low-income community. Here, it’s a little more hidden,” he said. “I grew up as a hungry kid and there’s that feeling that you’ve done something wrong, that you should hide the shame, hide the hunger. But, with an event like this, it brings people together. “
Taylor, who says he is critical of the “charity model and poverty mentality” of food banks, says he saw change when food was presented with dignity and education to low-income Downtown Eastside residents.
“Because it’s so much more pleasant than being handed a bag of stale bread.”
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the cornbread was in the oven and the pots of chili were simmering on the stove. Somebody asked Christie if the class included eating the meal.
“Eating? Of course we are!” he said. “You think we’d go through all this trouble without eating something?”
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