Skip to main content

Growing Chefs! Ontario Headquarters & Food Education Centre


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.


Popular posts from this blog

Homage to The Indomitable Marika Hayek of Budapest Restaurant

BY BRYAN LAVERY It saddened me to read of Marika Hayek’s passing earlier this week. Budapest Dining Room and Tavern, a local gem with yards of red velvet and charming unintended kitsch continued to evolve while its grand interior remained virtually unchanged. The décor with plush velvet valances and curtained alcoves, brocades, red and gold wallpaper and comfortable armchair seating evokes another era. The Roma “Gypsy-style” aesthetic is also the restaurant's brand. It became both an anomaly and anachronism. The restaurant's two main rooms lead back from Dundas Street and are linked by an arched passageway across the middle, an ornate banquet hall at the far end, and the kitchen at the other end. There is almost always a musician—a piano player with a penchant for delivering uninvited political observations—playing the sentimental melodies traditionally adopted by Hungarian Romani musicians. He plays to the Budapest's patrons between brief monologues. He is p

Remembering Ann McColl's Kitchen Shop

Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay: A Brief History of a Road Less Traveled Hospitality and the culinary arts have always gone hand in hand. In London, Ontario, we have a history of exceptional restaurateurs, chefs and culinary retailers. Among the latter are Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay, the former proprietors of the legendary Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop, one of Canada’s finest cookware shops. Ann and David met, married and taught school in Windsor, Ontario from 1961 to 1968. They resigned their positions, sold their red brick bungalow, and embarked on a year-long food pilgrimage across Europe while camping in a Volkswagen van. Travelling in the van with a gas burner allowed them to truly enjoy the local terroir. The first six months of their trip , which ended at the French border, is described in Ann’s memoir Hungry Hearts – A Food Odyssey across Britain and Spain . The second volume, Hearts Forever Young, includes their travels in France, Italy, Austria

Homage to Toronto's Yorkville Landmarks the Coffee Mill and Le Trou Normand

Homage to Toronto's Yorkville Landmarks the Coffee Mill  and  Le Trou Normand U p until just a few months ago, Le Trou Normand remained the oldest operating fine dining restaurant in Yorkville. Coincidentally, The Coffee Mill a venerated European-style cafe which recently celebrated 51 years in business closed earlier this month. Martha von Heczey’s Coffee Mill opened in May, 1963, in the now-demolished Lothian Mews, on Bloor Street. In 1973 , von Herczey  moved two blocks north to a mini-mall with Yorkville Avenue on one side, Cumberland Street on the other. There was a secluded terrace with an expandable awning in the event of rain. The Coffee Mill was practically right across the street from Le Trou Normand and it was one of my Yorkville haunts for over 30 years. Ms. von Heczey’s late husband Laci, a well-known wrestling champion, liked to wander around Yorkville with a tame cheetah on a leash.    Interestingly, in 1984, von Herczey even