It’s not just about the food. Sure, the kitchen is where the delicious stuff gets made: the muffins, the stew, the strawberry eclairs, and the asparagus-and-cheese sandwiches.
But a kitchen can also be a meeting place, a hub for family and community. Maritime kitchen parties are famous for great music. In the Soviet Union, dissidents exchanged ideas in the kitchen, free from the prying eyes of Big Brother. From Mumbai to Marrakesh, Buenos Aires to Beijing, the kitchen has long been a place for people to relax with family and friends and celebrate their cultures.
Since spring 2022 the Edmonton Public Library’s downtown branch has been home to The Kitchen, a cooking space where classes and special events aim to do more than fill empty stomachs; its larger purpose is to nourish skills, food literacy and community connections. It offers classes put on by the library, along with others through partner organizations, and is available for rent to private groups.
At a session this summer, a cook from Saddle Lake Cree Nation made personal connections--along with soup and focaccia bread--in a class led by The Kitchen co-ordinator Zofia Trebaczkiewicz. The event brought together Indigenous cooks from across the province, and during a break from kneading dough, Ricky Pachakes talked about links between cooking and community.
“I’m a residential school survivor, and my parents were also,” Pachakes said. “What got me through was my grandparents. I used to always watch my grandmother. She was a midwife, a medicine lady, and she was a cook.”
“I run a Meals On Wheels program for elders and disabled people,” he added. ““I’ve been doing it since 2000, and I love my job. I love working with the community and the elders. I do all the shopping, cooking and deliveries myself, about 25 (meals) a day, Monday to Friday.”
Pachakes said his first visit to The Kitchen was a rewarding one.
“I like it; it’s good to meet other people from other cultures."
From the main entrance of the Stanley A. Milner branch, it's a straight shot up the escalator and toward the southwest corner of the building – just beyond the computer lab and through the teen fiction section – to reach The Kitchen. It’s a bright, open-feeling room with large windows, gleaming stainless-steel appliances, and, during a cooking class, it's also filled with mouthwatering aromas.
The 2,100-square-foot space boasts induction cook tops, a high-tech ventilation system, state-of-the-art appliances, and any number of gadgets that could be found in home or commercial kitchens. Its dozen workstations are moveable, and overhead power drops make it possible to rearrange the space quickly and easily.
Melanie St-Onge, EPL’s manager of adult services, said The Kitchen was inspired by similar programming at the Philadelphia Free Library and Halifax Public Libraries, and reinforced by local demand.
“We are always in conversation with the community," St-Onge said. “We've heard about skill building, like knife skills, basic recipes, how to make a great chocolate chip cookie ... We try to offer a range of skills focusing more on the basics, because that is a gap in the community.”
Having said that, exotic offerings are in demand as well.
“The macaron and eclair classes are very popular,” St-Onge said. “People really (enjoy) anything baking--if there's dough involved people love it.”
St-Onge said classes generally cost from $12-$15, depending on price of ingredients (which are supplied), and are suitable for all skill levels.
“We'll see folks in their early 20s just moved out for the first time, learning how to make lentil burgers, and in the same class you'll have people who have been retired for a long time and are having a great time learning a new recipe to add to their roster,” St-Onge said. “We keep the numbers smaller so we can have that one-on-one personalized assistance if needed. So, if someone's coming in and they've never touched a stirring spoon, they'll be just fine.”
Much like a home kitchen, St-Onge said The Kitchen offers opportunity for family and friends to have fun and strengthen bonds, all while conjuring some favourite recipes.
“We've had our Summer Starts program, and also grandparents coming with their grandkids, so there's a lot of opportunity for intergenerational community-building in our classes – which is beautiful," she said.
For more on The Kitchen at the Stanley A. Milner branch of the Edmonton Public Library, including registration for classes, visit epl.ca/the-kitchen/