CANMORE – Musicians, artists, comedians and even chefs have all embraced online connections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through a collaboration, the Bow Valley Food Alliance (BVFA) and Yuka Ozawa, owner of YOWZA! Creative & Catering, started the Chef in Apprentice program focused on teaching children in low-income families how to cook.
The first class took place in person on Nov. 17, but due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 and provincial restrictions at the time, the program quickly shifted to an online cooking class series over Zoom.
“My passion is teaching people about food,” said Ozawa. “I could have just closed the doors and ended the program, but I remembered that voice in my head telling me about the excitement of teaching children how to cook. So I decided to do the Zoom classes.”
Ozawa is no stranger to online cooking classes. Last spring during the lockdown, she started offering online sushi making workshops as a way to keep her catering business afloat.
“It was about more than the money. I wanted to stay connected with people and share my passion,” she said.
With the help of her husband, Ed Whittingham, she carried out the online classes throughout the spring. She said it was challenging, but also a learning experience that helped her transition to online classes with the Chef in Apprentice program.
Through the program, students learned about how to prepare healthy meals and snack ideas, build basic cooking skills and learn about food safety. Before each lesson, pre-packaged food items were delivered to participants' homes, much in the way meal kits are delivered. Ozawa said participants would then join the Zoom call and follow along while preparing a meal for their family.
“We made a full meal each week. We made a meat pie, pork chops with orange sauce, really large meals. It was so rewarding to see their excitement and progression over just a few weeks.”
Ozawa said teaching children the importance of food security and a few basic skills in the kitchen can have a profound impact on the way they view food in the future. She added that it is not only the children learning, but also their parents behind the scenes learning as well.
“You can spend money on takeout food for every meal, but that is not sustainable. By having a small set of skills it will help lead to more food security and I believe that will lead to other areas of your life,” Ozawa said.
“I personally learned how to cook at 12 for my family. I remember that excitement of experimenting in the kitchen – it is something I have carried through my life and something I want to pass on to others.”
Ozawa is currently planning more online cooking classes for children, and is hopeful to start in February.