Feeding It Forward

Kid-focussed food skills program gets big boost from Maple Leaf Foods.

Many lament that today’s youth have no kitchen skills, but Chris Sallie is doing more than just complaining about the situation. A Red Seal chef with a big heart and firmly-held beliefs about levelling the playing field, Sallie spearheaded the creation of the Island Food Skills Initiative (IFSI) in 2014. He’s been teaching Island children how to cook ever since. IFSI was recently awarded $10,000 through the Maple Leaf Foods’ Feed it Forward program.

“I got an email in May that I’d been shortlisted for this award that I’d never even heard of. It turns out Peter Bevan-Baker had nominated me without my knowledge,” said Sallie. “I’d spoken to him after he came in to talk to a class and I guess I was a bit down and out about access to funding.”

In July, Sallie got the phone call confirming he was one of ten recipients nationwide awarded funding from Maple Leaf Foods. The Feed it Forward program seeks to recognize and award Canadians who support others by nourishing their potential through good food and innovation. Sallie, an Ontario native who was drawn to the Island by its culinary school and oysters, is doing just that through the IFSI.

Photo Credit: Luke Leunes

“I wanted to rediscover my passion for food and reconnect with my childhood. I’d lost that passion somewhere along the line. Even though I was working at Lot 30 and loved the team there, I was just going through the motions,” said Sallie when asked what motivated him to establish IFSI.

All of the culinary programs offered through IFSI are free to participants. Sallie is adamant that every single child is able to take part, regardless of their circumstances. “Those that stand to benefit the most from hands-on learning environments often come from socio-economic groups that limit their access to these forms of education,” said Sallie.

This deeply thoughtful side of Sallie is counter to the big personality he brings to the forefront when instructing kids. “Kids love a big personality, I have to bring a lot of energy into the classroom,” said Sallie.

Since 2014, Sallie’s been bringing that boisterous personality to kids aged eight to 13 in a variety of settings. His first classes were offered at the Hillsborough Community Centre. He now offers the Junior Sous Chef Program at the Murphy Community Centre. The drop-in program provides kids with an opportunity to learn such fundamentals of cooking as knife skills, food safety, menu planning and shopping on a budget. “It’s about increasing their food literacy and skills, but it’s also about learning social skills, teamwork, leadership and individual responsibility,” said Sallie.

When asked about a highlight over the past three years, Sallie is quick to cite a workshop program that was funded by Sobeys, the Dairy Farmers of Canada and the City of Charlottetown. “I had a group of 15 kids and we got to travel across PEI checking out cool things. We went to Glasgow Glen and learned how to make a thermos-friendly cheese fondue. We toured Redshores Racetrack & Casino and made tacos with Chef Andrew Smith. My favourite was a visit to Johnny Flynn’s, where we got to sample Colville Bay oysters.”

Education underpins every workshop and class Sallie hosts. “Education will help serve to modernize and professionalize the culture within the hospitality industry,” said Sallie, noting that many of the kids he teaches will likely end up working in hospitality. He hopes an early appreciation for education will give them a leg up as they enter the work world.

With a view to the future, Sallie is buoyed by the infusion of funds from Maple Leaf Foods. “I want to ensure what we do is sustainable. This money provides us with the opportunity to work with other groups. I’m looking at the possibility of working with the UPEI Panther Pantry and maybe doing cooking classes at the residences,” said Sallie.

Importantly, he will also need to find a new torch-bearer. When he’s not teaching kids to cook, Sallie is busy attending classes at UPEI and has just gone through the first round of law school applications. He is confident things will fall into place and plans to continue being on the Island part-time.

Despite the new career direction, it is clear Sallie is still in love with food and its effect on how we experience life. “Food has this fundamental capacity to consume all our senses at once, allowing us to forget, at least momentarily, about the things that cause us stress and sorrow. The further we push food out of our lives, the less time we give our souls a chance to recharge.”

It is Sallie’s hope and that of many others like him, that by introducing kids to the joy of cooking at an early age, the kitchen and dinner table might again become hubs of food creation and communal soul-recharging.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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