Photography by Julie Durocher Image by: <i>Photography by Julie Durocher</i>
Catherine Cheng is the first to admit that cooking has never been her strong suit.
When it came to feeding her young family, the mom of two had a few go-to recipes, but dinners were generally packaged foods that were easy to heat and serve on busy nights. "It wasn’t ideal," she admits.
Now the Granby, QC, mom makes more meals from scratch, confidently attempts new recipes and is even trying her hand at sprouting—all thanks to the skills she learned and honed at her local collective kitchen.
The first collective kitchen was established in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district in 1982. Now, collective kitchens across the country (some of which are known as community kitchens) provide participants with clean, safe cooking facilities where they can make nutritious meals, learn recipes and take pleasure in cooking and eating well.
When Cheng lived in Laval, she belonged to a mom-and-tots group that met in the collective kitchen of Maison de la famille, a community centre in the city’s west end. She made low-cost meals while her kids received on-site child care. Best of all, Cheng met other neighbourhood moms. It was this same desire to make connections within her new neighbourhood that drew her to the Granby kitchen. "I desperately wanted to meet other mothers with young ones, so I joined the wonderful Granby collective kitchen. Today, I have a new circle of friends and our children have new friends, too. We ladies now get together for monthly potlucks and share our ups and downs." Cheng describes this meld of food and friends as "synergy."
Beyond the social aspect, the collective kitchen helps keep her family well fed. "Making wonderful, healthy recipes that are affordable and freeze well is the main goal of the kitchens," says Cheng. Every month her group selects a handful of recipes, compiles grocery lists and shops for ingredients.
Each dish, from stew to dessert, yields several portions for every participant. In most cases, one portion costs about $1 per serving. "If you can spare a day or two per month to cook with a group, you will reap the benefits," says Cheng.
That includes having the courage to try the recipes at home. "One day, I dug through my recipes, brought the kids to the grocery store, then had them help me make healthy granola bars. I also made soup from leftovers and followed a meat loaf recipe. When my husband came home from work at 7 p.m., he didn't have to throw a pizza in the oven; he had healthier food to eat!"
Cheng says her goal is to add other nutritious foods—like quinoa, kale and tofu—to her repertoire. "I know I can handle the task of cooking healthy meals now," says Cheng. "Collective kitchens have given me the confidence to fly on my own. It is a great feeling."