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My Life Changing Day at The Stop

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By James Geneau

Every day, in cities all over the world, chef’s kitchen’s are in full gear by 10:00am.  Chopping, boiling, and braising occurs in anticipation for the lunch rush or evening dinner service.  However, in Toronto, in a small little kitchen in the middle of a food centre for those in need, I had the opportunity to witness something fantastic.

Here, amongst ten local residents of the Davenport West community, I participated in a communal cooking class and dinner.  The Stop Community Food Centre has been a favorite of Gremolata’s for many years.  Their work is truly groundbreaking and their passion for helping those in need with good food is something we always admired.  However, I had never had a chance to be a part of their work “hands on”.  And so, as part of our Gremolata Twitter fundraiser for Charity Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit in on this great weekly tradition at The Stop and share the story live in order to build awareness for their work and help them raise money for their initiatives.

Today, I was blessed to meet a great group of lively and entertaining people whose lives may be an endless barrage of challenges but whose spirits can never be broken.   The Stop Community Food Centre strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds community and challenges inequality.  They offer the opportunity for people to connect with each other over good food. This includes community kitchens, which attempt to build food skills and reduce social isolation while increasing the participants’ access to healthy food.  In essence, it teaches the basics of coming together, communicating, and sharing over good food.  Our society as a whole has lost their way when it comes to embracing these values.  We are too tied up with our cars, our jobs, our bank accounts and our golf club memberships to enjoy the basics of good food and what it can bring to the table.  In a mere two hours, with the help of my new friends at The Stop, I discovered the secret of why food is important.

Around a giant table, we chopped, sliced, diced, and coated.  We shared stories and laughed at the antics of each other.  We were old, young, and in between.  African, Indian, White, and Latino, none of this mattered.  What mattered was the task at hand, creating our Warm Sesame Chicken Salad.  The people around the table came from many different backgrounds and while the task was to cook a meal, the larger-scale challenges were far more profound.  For some, it was the challenge of understanding written instructions.  For others, it was accessibility due to a physical handicap.  For others, it was meeting new people for the first time and opening up to new experiences.  This was more than a meal, it was a major step towards meeting new people and learning new things.  And the fact they had fun doing it only made it that more profound!

I have had the opportunity to attend many great events and eat at some phenomenal restaurants around the world.  Today’s meal however, was one of the best I ever ate.  It was made with love, through teamwork, and with a passion from everyone involved.  We cooked it together, and then we sat down and ate it together like a big family.  We discussed it together and thought of new challenges for next week’s dish.  It had all the elements of a perfect meal.  It was made with love, it was wholesome, and it brought us together.

And so, I left my new friends after the session with a full belly but also a full heart.  I also left with a sense of pride in what I had been allowed to be a part of.  I had helped and watched a great group of new friends create a delicious meal and was blessed that they would let me participate in it as well.   And for this, I cannot thank The Stop Community Food Centre enough.

This, and the many other programs run by The Stop Community Food Centre rely on donations and sponsorships from the public.  Gremolata has helped, and you can too.  To learn more and to make a donation, simply visit http://www.thestop.org/.

Oh, and for those interested in what we cooked, feel free to sign up to Gremolata’s Twitter page to read the minute-by minute photos and comments at http://www.twitter.com/gremolata. 

And here is the recipe...

Warm Sesame Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

Chicken:

1 lb. chicken breast

½ cup flour

2 eggs

½ cup breadcrumbs

2 cups cornflakes, lightly crushed

4 tsp sesame seeds, plus extra for garnish

1 tsp chili powder

Salad:

¼ nappa cabbage

½ chicory

2 heads endive

1 purple onion, sliced paper thin

1 cup red wine vinegar

Dressing:

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, oregano, tarragon

1 tbls rice wine vinegar

4 tbls olive oil

1 tbls sesame seed oil

1 tsp honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally, then cut lengthwise into strips

Prepare pickled onions by thinly slicing onion.  Bring red wine vinegar to a boil.  Take vinegar off the heat, add onions and allow to sit and cool for a half hour.

Place flour in a wide bowl. 

Beat eggs and place into a wide bowl

Mix breadcrumbs, cornflakes, sesame seeds and chili powder  and place in a wide bowl

Coat chicken in flour, then egg, then breadcrumb mixture.  Once chicken is well coated, place on baking sheet

Bake chicken for 15 – 20 minutes – turning pieces over halfway through baking time

For salad, finely shred cabbage, chicory and endive, add to mixing bowl.  Add pickled onions

In a small bowl mix together dressing ingredients.  Pour over salad and toss well.

 Add chicken on top. 



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