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Junior Chef program helps Guelph teens nourish their bodies and minds

It offers therapeutic cooking and life skills for youth who are struggling with pandemic-related challenges or other issues
Daniel Nathan and Chef 8847
Chef Pam Fanjoy with two young people from the Junior Chef program. Ariel Deutschmann/GuelphToday

A new weekend cooking program for Guelph teens is aimed at helping them learn how to nourish their bodies and minds during the pandemic. 

The FAN/JOY Junior Chef program, which had been operating in Hillsburgh, started being offered in Guelph on the weekend.

The three-week program teaches a small class of teens about kitchen safety, knife skills, healthy nutrition, how to work with in-season ingredients and reducing food waste. 

“It’s a way for them to come together in a safe environment and to connect with other teens.” said chef Pam Fanjoy, who runs the program and has operated a restaurant in Hillsburgh for a number of years.

All lessons take place in the Nourish Kitchen at 10C Shared Space.

In following public safety health standards, the kitchen has been converted to each student their own cooking space, while being six feet apart from each other.

It’s not your average cooking class, as Fanjoy describes it as being dynamic and hands-on.

“It’s a unique opportunity and I hope we’re well-received in Guelph,” said Fanjoy, “We’re really excited to be here.”

Having spent 25 years as a clinical social worker and family therapist before becoming a chef, the Junior Chef program became a way for Fanjoy to help youth build their confidence, be creative, and provide therapeutic benefits.

“Cooking is a wonderful way to deal with stress and anxiety,” said Fanjoy, “In our Junior Chef program, we not only teach them how to cook, but we teach them about communication, cooperation and collaboration.”

They also offer a more intensive and therapeutic program for youth struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, weight or dietary concerns, bullying or school-related problems, Autism, Aspergers, attention difficulties, separation/divorce or other family concerns. More information on it can be found here.

Fanjoy adds that cooking with others in the program also feeds our need for connection, which can improve emotional regulation and the ability to cope. 

“During the pandemic, it’s been a challenge for youth and adults alike,” she said.

In April, Fanjoy started talking to families about their experiences during the pandemic. She realized then that young people, especially teens, were struggling more with the challenges of online schooling and social isolation.

“I just really felt compelled to do whatever I could here to expand my reach and my programming to make it as accessible to youth as possible.” she said.

To help foster relationships, one of the core parts of the program is participants taking home a meal they made for their families. By bringing a meal home, Fanjoy says teens experience the benefits of giving back to their family through food. 

“They suddenly start to find value in contributing to their family life and they start cooking at home,” she adds.

“It’s a phenomenal experience to see teens find their own strength through cooking,” said Fanjoy about the program.

“To see that they can find new ways to communicate and connect with others through food, it becomes a powerful life skill for them.”

To get more youth into the Junior Chef program, Fanjoy said they are also developing bursaries.

With classes available in December, there is still time for young people to join the program by registering online, or calling them at 519-217-1445.

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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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