Ottawa

Canadian cooking class serves up friendship

A course at Parkdale Food Centre teaches new Canadians about nutrition, cooking skills and much more.

Newcomers gather each week to pick up food tips with a distinctly Canadian flavour

How do you cut onions without crying? Chef Domenico Di Grigoli shows Claudine Nduwimana, originally from Burundi, how an expert approaches the task. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

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.

Chef Domenico Di Grigoli shows students, including Dorcas Bihamba, centre, and Shiho Kato, right, how to make a hearty soup for the Canadian winter. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

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.  

Luisa Thuswaldner teaches students about portion sizes the Canadian way — by using a hockey puck as a unit of measurement. First, she had to teach some of them what a hockey puck is. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

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."

Ottawa newcomers learn how to cook with Canadian ingredients. 1:00

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.

With the lesson in nutrition over, everyone is ordered into the kitchen by chef Domenico Di Grigoli. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

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."

Jimmy Girodier, who moved to Canada from Venezuela in May, said the cooking class has become a social event he looks forward to all week. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

"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."

Dorcas Bihamba (from the DRC) and Shiho Kato (from Japan) got to know each other at a newcomer cooking class 0:37

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."