A new series of virtual cooking classes led by expert chefs are helping fund a brand new community space in Calgary’s East Village.
Carya (formerly Calgary Family Services) has teamed up with the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen to launch Everyone at the Table (EATT), which offers a series of virtual cooking experiences. The proceeds raised from EATT will help open the doors to Village Commons, a place they hope will bring family and community together.
The three-part series kicked off in February and is led by expert chefs from the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen.
JP Gerritsen, the Supervisor of Culinary Programs at the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen, said teaming up with Carya on the initiative was very important to him and his team.
“Food security is so important and it’s just such a massive stress in your life,” Gerritsen said.
“Everybody needs to eat, so if we can teach people or bring people together to share over a meal or to learn something — just to make their lives a little bit easier…It’s a huge win for me”
The first class in February “had a great response,” Gerritsen said, adding he hopes the next two in March and April will be just as successful.
In honour of International Women’s Day, March’s theme is Empowering Women and Girls. It includes three appetizers, which Gerritsen said is perfect for a dinner party — when it’s safe to gather again.
“In March, we wanted to do sort of a ladies’ night get together, revolving around fancier hors d’oeuvres that you can eat and enjoy or entertainment with… someday,” Gerritsen joked.
April’s theme is Boosting Mental Health and although a hot holiday isn’t recommended, Gerritsen said their popular Mexican class will bring all of those sunny, warm flavours from Central and South America right into your kitchen.
“It’s just great to be able to virtually connect with people in these sort of trying and challenging times… to still be able to connect with people in the kitchen and connect over food and sharing food knowledge.”
Anyone who wants to participate can sign up on the Carya website. A shopping list is provided but there is also the option of buying a food box with all the ingredients needed.
Village Commons is set to open in late March as a community space in Calgary’s East Village.
The vision is that it will bring people together to learn, cook, create and access the mental health supports they need to thrive.
“Carya is all about community and building strong families and the Village Commons area — with its community kitchen — is going to help us bring all of those people together,” Theresa Watson, Carya CEO, said.
“There’s going to be cooking and art and activities and programs to learn and integrate with the community.”
According to Carya, 65 per cent of residents in Calgary’s East Village live alone, which means that social isolation is an ongoing concern.
“We expect to help over 24,000 people in the first five years that we’re opened here,” Watson said. “If the community engages with us like we hope they will, we think it’ll be an even bigger impact to the community… to help people with mental health issues, with learning and developing community.”
The Carya Society of Calgary
Carya has provided counselling and development services to Calgarians of all ages for more than a century, but has recently turned its focus to its youth and family programming due to the pandemic.
Susan Schippling has been taking part in Carya’s programs since 2017, and said it helped her find new hobbies and stay social — especially during the pandemic.
“My children say, since that time, they feel that I’ve bloomed and I’ve actually been flexing my creativity muscles,” Schippling said.
Beyond keeping her busy, Schippling said it’s helped boost her confidence.
“I never had that opportunity to make long-term friendships.”
“When I came to Carya, it helped me grow my friendships and widen my social circle — which I think everybody needs that wide social circle.”
Carya offers a variety of programming that Watson said “really try to bring people together — especially in this COVID-19 time when people are feeling isolated.”
“Our programs helped to build community, we help families interact better with each other as well as a community around them and we help youth reach their full potential as well.”
Carya’s website has a list of available programs, information on how to join and the option to donate.