Christopher Jess, a chef and farm instructor at Centre Wellington District High School (CWDHS), believes in slowing down and enjoying every part of a food experience. “Chef Jess”, as he’s affectionately called, has taught culinary and agriculture classes at CWDHS since the inception of its Food School ten years ago.
Chef Jess and his students make their own bacon, sauces, soups, breads, pastries, mac and cheese, and more, all from basic ingredients. From farm to plate, students are taught to appreciate and learn from every ingredient they use, with an emphasis on quality over quantity of food. “Our chef instructors instill a sense of value in that heirloom purple carrot, that ripe zebra tomato, that sheep cheese,” said Jade Ritter, a Food School student. “It encourages us to take pride in food we’ve made ourselves.”
Students also get their hands dirty in the vegetable gardens while learning about sustainable food production, forestry, landscaping and waste minimization. Chef Jess believes in teaching through hands-on experiences: “It’s about building confidence in the students to take on scratch cooking and own their role in producing food,” he says. “You have a knife, you have a pan, you’ve been to the farmers’ market – and you can do something with that.”
“Food also has the ability to open doors by creating shared experiences. By making your own food, you can generate a story that’s yours and your community’s.”
Over the past decade, the Food School has become an ever-widening community of its own. Students are able to share the meals they create with their peers in the school cafeteria and through a free breakfast program. The Food School even caters school and community events, with proceeds going toward student scholarships, garden upkeep and semesterly field trips to local farms.
“Youth are the future,” says Jade. “By teaching us to take an interest in where our food comes from, the Food School is creating a community of environmentally-conscientious citizens.”