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Growing Chefs! Ontario Headquarters & Food Education Centre



BY BRYAN LAVERY 

Andrew Fleet, Executive Director of Growing Chefs! Ontario, announced earlier this year that the former Auberge Restaurant at King and Maitland would be the new home for the ground-breaking program that unites chefs, growers, educators and community members in children’s food education projects. They have worked hard to transform the former Auberge du Petit Prince restaurant into an innovative Food Education Centre. It is a venue where Londoners, young and old, can get excited about growing, cooking, sharing, and celebrating delicious healthy food together. 

The enclosed sunrooms, dining rooms and bar have been turned into teaching areas. Upstairs features an additional three intimate rooms that can be used for private functions, corporate meetings and teaching facilities. The outdoor patio has been transformed into a spectacular Learning Garden. 

Food literacy, when taken literally, means a person’s ability to correctly read food labels and Canada’s Food Guide and the aptitude to comprehend basic nutrition well enough to apply that knowledge to food preparation. Food literacy also includes understanding how food is grown and produced, where it originates, how production affects the environment and who has access to what types of foods.




The need to introduce food into school life is the most compelling at the primary level, when children are just starting to establish food preferences, make independent choices and influence their friends. Growing Chefs! was conceived in Vancouver B.C. by Chef Merri Schwartz in 2006, as she identified a need to articulate the story of the food we eat. Believing in greater engagement between chefs, farmers and the general public, she set out to educate children, families, and community members about nutrition, sustainability and healthy food systems. Schwartz achieved this by providing programs, seminars, and workshops in classrooms to promote local and healthy eating.

After working with Schwartz and recognizing the influence that Growing Chefs! was having in Vancouver, Andrew Fleet was inspired to launch the program when he returned to London, Ontario. Consequently, Growing Chefs! Ontario Classroom ­Gardening Project was established in the spring of 2008 at Tecumseh Public School. Fleet is the Executive Director of Growing Chefs! Ontario.

What was initially known as the Classroom Gardening Project has been redesigned as a full-school project. The Growing Chefs! team visits every class in each partner school allowing individual schools to contribute time and effort into the coordination piece of the programming. “Kids are well educated in our school system on health and they know they need to be making healthy choices but we don’t show them how to actually do that,” Fleet explains. “That’s the Growing Chefs! philosophy — you give kids a chance to cook real food with real flavour with a real chef.”

Katherine Puzara lead chef for the elementary school project, Fresh Food Frenzy, and Growing Communities. Puzara has redesigned and expanded the workshops and lesson plans, while working to challenge the perceived limitations of children and youth in the kitchen. The program invites individual grade 1-3 classes on a field trip to visit the Covent Garden Farmers’ Market. Students explore the farmers’ market, purchase ingredients, and share their findings with the class. Afterwards they prepare a delicious three course lunch in the Market Kitchen. This program gives students a unique opportunity to connect with local farmers and learn about the journey of their food from farm to table.

Students visiting the Education Centre on a field trip experience an authentic restaurant setting, explore the Learning Garden, and take part in grade-appropriate cooking activities.  In the restaurant setting, students can see the entire food system in action, from production to consumption and beyond. Field trips culminate with students sharing a meal they have had a hand in preparing a healthy and seasonal meal.






Over the years, who’s who of local chefs have participated in the Growing Chefs! program. The chefs include Andrew Wolwowicz from Craft Farmacy/North Moore Catering, who has been on the Board of Directors of Growing Chefs! since 2010,  Paul Harding of The Root Cellar, Dani Murphy of Blu Duby, Wade Fitzgerald of Fanshawe College, Mark Kitching from Waldo’s on King, Ryan Irwin of Fellini’s in Stratford, Yoda Olinyk of Yoda’s Private Catering, Yam Gurung of Momo’s at the Market and Patrick Dunham of Patrick’s Beans, to name a few. 

Based on the idea that education can alter behavior, Growing Chefs! and its many volunteers have made tremendous strides by changing the way many children perceive food and encouraging them to become excited about nutritious and healthy food choices.

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