Canadian cooking class serves up friendship
Newcomers gather each week to pick up food tips with a distinctly Canadian flavour
When Claudine Nduwimana heard about a cooking class geared toward new Canadians, she jumped at the chance to learn more about her adopted country.
"Food defines cultures," said Nduwimana, originally from Burundi.
"Back home we have a saying: being related is nothing until there's food. It's like the glue to a society."
Nduwimana is one of more than a dozen students enrolled in the new class, organized by the Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI).
Students gather once a week at the Parkdale Food Centre kitchen, where they pick up food tips with a distinctly Canadian flavour — whether it's defining portion sizes using hockey pucks or downloading phone apps to find coupon deals at the grocery store.
Mostly though, it's about incorporating the meat and vegetables available in a Canadian grocery store into their traditional repertoires, so newcomers can make healthy recipes for themselves and their families.
"I try to teach them, you have to adapt," explained chef Domenico Di Grigoli, who leads the lessons.
Born in Italy and raised in Venezuela, he's had to adapt a few times himself.
"You cannot pretend that you will find the food that you used to eat in your country here in Canada, and prepare it the same way. You have to learn," said Di Grigoli, who trained as a chef before moving to Canada nine years ago.
On the day CBC visited, he was teaching the class how to make two kinds of hearty soup to help them survive cold Canadian winters.
Di Grigoli said there are clear signs the class is a success: "They eat everything, and they ask for more."
The program began as a short pilot project, but was so popular it was expanded to 10 weeks.
Settlement officer Thao Duong said the CCI has already committed to run another class next spring.
That doesn't surprise Nduwimana.
"Being new here in Canada, you don't have a lot of friends, you don't know people, you don't know places. So just coming together, you cook, you socialize, you eat together — it's really a good thing."
Jimmy Girodier, who moved to Canada from Venezuela last spring, said he also values the social aspect of the weekly event.
"We are making friends," he said. "We are practising our English and having fun."
"We have people from different backgrounds, from North America, Asia, Japan, Kenya. And that's what makes this program special," said Dorcas Bihamba, who's from Congo,
Her new friend, Shiho Kato, who arrived from Japan, said the new friendships are a "happy surprise."
Gathered at the big table, their bowls filled with warm soup, the newcomers' laughter and conversation pauses while Di Grigoli addresses his new chefs:
"If I was at home, what we do is we give thanks because we have another meal on our plate and not many have that. So we have to be thankful and enjoy."