Rooks to Cooks helps kids learn cooking and gain independence

"My mission is ... using culinary education as means to help children become more independent, self-sufficient and confident."

Teacher and students cooking at Rooks to Cooks
Rooks for Cooks wants kids to experiment with cooking and learn more than just making pizzas and cupcakes. (Courtesy Rooks to Cooks) 

A local cooking school plans to teach kids more than just how to make cupcakes and pizza this summer.

Rooks to Cooks has 16 locations around Toronto, and they will be holding a summer cooking camp at Eastminster United Church in East York. Its founder said summer is the best season to get young chefs cooking.

“I know that in order to actually make an impact on kids and have them absorb information and be able to utilize what they learn … they need to be immersed in a program,” Chef Shai Mandel said about the inspiration of the cooking summer camp.

“The camp model offers families and children the opportunity to come and be immersed in essentially a very high-level culinary school environment,” she said.

Shai Mandel and a cooking student from Rooks to Cooks
Chef Shai Mandel believes teaching kids how to cook is crucial for them to learn independence. (Rooks to Cooks/Facebook)

Mandel founded Rooks to Cooks in 2015. She is a chef and a certified teacher, for Rooks and Cooks, and wanted to bring a higher level of culinary education for kids by offering real cooking programs.

The camps are only one of the program structures they offer, their programs range from in-school workshops to even workshops where they teach a mathematics curriculum that ties to cooking. As well as doing after-school classes and cooking classes for parties.

What Chef Mandel has been able to accomplish is teaching kids cooking skills but also teaching them the actual Ontario-certified curriculum, they indicate the things that are tied to the lessons the kids have each week.

According to Mandel, the summer camps are the bread and butter, since the kids are in for a full week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

kids cooking in the Rooks to Cooks course
Kids are able to experience cooking fully and freely. (Pictured provided by Shai Mandel)

The kids are able to learn about nutrition and gain an appreciation for healthy eating. They learn safe food handling, proper knife handling, and chopping techniques. During the camp, they will also have camp activities that include baking, cooking, and arts and crafts.

“My mission is, it boils down to using culinary education as means to help children become more independent, self-sufficient and confident in themselves,” she said.

According to an article done by Nemours KidsHealth, cooking helps young kids build basic skills such as math and listening skills, encourages an adventurous palate as the kids are interested in trying the food they made, helps them explore their senses, and boosts confidence as they gain a sense of accomplishment.

Mandel knows that especially with cooking, parents limit their kids when working with risks, like knives and gas burners. But in the program, they give them full exposure.

“Here’s a knife, here’s a gas burner. This is a safety. Take it seriously. Be a human. You can injure yourself and take responsibility for yourself,” she reminds her students.

Family-oriented, community driven

Mandel sold the company back in May of 2021, but she is still very much involved, she manages the curriculum development within the company, and is the HR manager, as she hires and trains all the staff who run their program.

Mandel sold the company to Julian Pancer and his wife, Danielle. Pancer is also the fourth generation owner of the oldest Jewish deli in Ontario, called Panther’s Original Deli.

When Mandel approached them she knew that they would continue with her vision.

“We are very family-oriented. We’re very community-driven,” Pancer said. He and Danielle have two kids.

Julian Pancer believes teaching kids makes them grow more curious about the food they make and are willing to try newer things. (Picture provided by Shai Mandel).

Rooks to Cooks supports local businesses and ensures that there is zero food waste from their programs.

“We work in part with all the food banks across the GTA,” said Pancer, “we have a long-standing and ongoing relationship with Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto.”

At the end of May, they will host a charity event supporting Daily Bread Food Bank.

Pancer believes that everyone should learn how to cook; it is a necessity once children move out of their parent’s homes, and even before they move out.

“Helping in the kitchen is not just helping out the parents,” he said, “it’s nourishing to the children to be a part of the creative process.”

He said he has seen kids come in unable to use a can opener, who become skilled in cooking. As well as mitigating picky eating habits, as he has noticed many kids come in not liking certain foods like avocados, and coming out loving avocados to the point even their parents are surprised.

“We are always challenging kids to taste everything they make,” he said. “My personal rule is you don’t have to eat anything. I’m not going to force feed you, but you have to taste everything.”

Rooks to Cooks also aims to be allergy-aware as well as offer dietary restrictions whenever needed.

What they are trying to do now is give the opportunity to chefs and culinary educators outside of the GTA as well as the kids, as to where that is still undecided.

Mandel wants others to spread their mission and for parents and their kids to live a healthy, happy life with the chance to have fulfilling work.

“It’s only fulfilling when you keep cooking and cooking,” she said.

Parents can visit the Rooks to Cooks website to learn more about the summer camp and other courses they offer.

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Posted: Apr 24 2023 4:00 pm
Filed under: Education Food