Amid essay deadlines, tests, and group projects, it can be difficult to eat healthy. Thoughts about food are often pushed to the bottom of our priority list as we channel all our time and energy into classes and assignments. But Chartwells and Hospitality and Retail Services have tried to draw the focus back in that direction by partnering to create a unique cooking class experience for students.

Everyone is welcome to join and may come and go when they please. The workshops allow students to participate in cooking classes, mingle with professional chefs, meet new people, and enjoy food afterwards. And they’re free.

Last Wednesday, the workshop’s theme was “Cooking in 20 Minutes”. The Faculty Club in the Davis Building was transformed into a cooking show set. Rows of chairs lined the room, equipped with recipe cards, white aprons, and survey and suggestion sheets. Three small round tables were ready with portable stoves, spoons, gloves, chopped vegetables, spices, and saucers of sauces. Along the back wall, covered trays of hot food simmered on tables.

“Cooking is a science. But it has showmanship,” said chef Sandeep Kachroo, UTM’s culinary director. Kachroo began cooking at age 17 and has since studied at culinary school and worked in luxury hotels all over the world. He has travelled to Luxembourg, Shanghai, and the south of France, to name a few places. With a lifetime of experience under his chef’s hat, Kachroo has worked in food and dining at UTM for almost a year.

“Not all mistakes are mistakes. Some mistakes are inventions,” Kachroo said with a grin. “Recipes are only a guideline.” The group made bread pudding, a classic dessert of stale bread and baked custard, first. Kachroo showed the group of 20 students how to crack an egg with one hand. We helped butter the bread and crack the rest of the eggs.

After preparing dessert, we moved onto cooking the main course. Students split into three groups and picked a table with either beef, chicken, or vegetable stew. All the meat was halal and the vegetable option was also vegan. Kachroo went from table to table to check up on progress, provide cooking tips, and verify that we had correctly identified the ingredients on the table.

Each group plated their meals and garnished them for a little extra presentation. We sat back down and each group informally presented their dish and explained what they learned. The beef students explained that if a recipe calls for rosemary, the spice should be crushed first and then tossed into oil, or else it will be bitter instead of sweet. The chicken students joked that Kachroo had caught them right before they tossed a bowl of tomato sauce into their stew.

The workshop ended with a feast of ready-made trays of the food that we cooked with sides of rice, lentils, beans, and garlic bread. The bread pudding was also hot and ready to eat.

“Learning how to cook is a valuable life skill and it’s something that can help you save a lot of money,” said fourth-year biology specialist Wayne Ferrao. “I learned about flavour profiling—flavours that work well together or flavours that don’t.”

“I walked in all tense, expecting a lightning-fast cooking round, and was completely surprised to discover how fun and relaxing the Chartwells staff and event coordinators made the whole thing out to be,” said Sophia Luo, a third-year art and art history and French student. “It was effortless learning—you could try what you were taught as soon as it was taught, which is so refreshing after hours of sitting in lectures.”

“We want students to come in and be able to take something away they didn’t know before. Chartwells is not just here to provide food. We can teach people as well as […] the thought process and everything that goes into healthy cooking,” said Michael Jeronimo, the general manager of Chartwells.

He added that the workshops double as an alternative venue for student feedback on menus.

“There are real chefs, there is real menu-ing, and there are real thought processes that go into the meals on campus,” said Eli Bamfo, Chartwells’ manager of campus engagement and sustainability. “I enjoy just being able to engage with students on food literacy. The more that students know about food, the more they’ll care about it and really appreciate all the work that goes into food services on campus.”

He said that Kachroo would “probably do most of the workshops”, but that they hope to bring in Canadian celebrity chefs and other chefs “from the Chartwells world”.

The first workshop, “Healthy eating on a budget”, was held on January 26. Students can expect one more before the school year is over. It will be at the end of the month; UTM Dining’s social media accounts are to announce the exact date.