Focus on family and food rings in the Chinese New Year

For Chef Winlai Wong, cooking is about more than just food.

On Saturday morning, Wong taught the Growing Tastebuds workshop to about 15 children at Toronto’s  Evergreen Brick Works.  She believes cooking is a way for families to bond.

“It (cooking) is about enjoying and giving appreciation to where the food came from and where it’s grown,” she said. “It’s connects people, it connects families.”

Growing Tastebuds is an eight-week hands-on cooking workshop for children eight to 12-years old.  In celebration of Chinese New Year, the children made dumplings.

Wong, executive chef at Spice Route, said her decision in doing the cooking class was to pass on her knowledge of food.

“I want to inspire, educate and teach,” Wong said.  “I love children.”

Emily Dhanjal, one of the children who is in the workshop, said she likes to cook.

“I get to explore new food and enjoy new things,” she said.

Chef Wong, 39, said her father’s philosophy of cooking, which influenced her own style, was about freshness and where the food came from.

“When we’d eat squab or pheasants, we’d get them live!”

Wong says she would never be able to ask her father what was for dinner.

“He’d get very upset and say, ‘whatever is fresh!’ He was always obsessing over whatever was in season,” she said. “We don’t buy for the next day, we buy for that day.”

Melissa Yu, project manager for Evergreen programming, said Wong was a perfect choice to head the workshop, part of larger Lunar New Year’s festival and farmer’s market held at the former quarry and brick yard in Toronto’s Don Valley.

“We wanted to go with a Chinese chef that was well-known in the community,” Yu said. “It’s also great that she’s a woman; there are a lot of male chefs out there.”

Yu, 25, also comes from a Chinese background; her parents are fromHong Kong.

“China is a huge place, so there is regional cuisine,” she said. “I would say that following a culture’s food is such an interesting way to get to know them.”