When Vic High life-skills teacher Asha Rao first approached the Harbourside Rotary Club for a grant to help students expand the breakfast program at her school, she had no idea how quickly the idea would catch on.
“This isn’t the classical school lunch program,” said Randi Falls, Vic High’s principal.
The program isn’t a nutritional necessity for students, but rather an opportunity for them to learn valuable lessons in nutrition, food security and food preparation.
“Vic High has a life-skills program that teaches students the basics of food preparation as well as programs that are designed to pave the way to careers in the food industry,” said Falls. “The partners in this (lunch) program are enhancing those courses in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.”
The level of community support has surprised both Falls and Shellie Gudgeon, the Rotary Club representative working on the program. Shortly after reaching out to the community, Vic High was offered assistance by Sysco Victoria (for supplies) Fairway Markets and Fol Epi Bakery.
Most importantly, the program has the hands-on support of chef Cosmo Means, the culinary master behind the Hot and Cold Café. Means will be in the school kitchen where he will both teach students cooking skills and share his knowledge of food selection, nutrition, and menu selection and preparation.
“Chef Means is only the first of the chefs that we expect to bring into the program,” said Gudgeon, adding other chefs have already expressed interest and it’s hoped they’ll join the program to help guide the students who have an interest in the food industry.
“With more chefs coming on we can expose the students to a variety of styles and approaches, and let them gain the knowledge of some of the best professionals in the field.”
Although the program is starting out with the goal of preparing one meal a month for 250 students at Vic High, Gudgeon said with the growing level of support, she can see the program expanding to a weekly effort in the near future.
While the first lessons involve the preparation of soup, Gudgeon hopes it will expand to other menu items such as locally sourced salads and entrees.
“We want to partner with local farmers and food producers and even explore urban gardening as a potential source of products for our program,” she said.