An Alberta cook is offering hundreds of children a sweet reprieve from lockdown restlessness with an online class teaching them how to whip up homemade treats.
As the rampant spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 extends winter breaks in many provinces, Calgary cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal says she felt for all of the families struggling to keep kids occupied while out of school, away from their friends and cooped up at home in freezing weather.
She thought she could help take something off parents' plates by hosting a free virtual cooking camp this week for young gourmands looking to learn new recipes.
The first Zoom class on Tuesday was filled to capacity with 1,000 participants following along as she gave a step-by-step demonstration on baking biscuits.
Many of the pint-sized chefs were from Alberta, where Van Rosendaal is well-known as a food columnist on CBC Radio's "Calgary Eyeopener," but other kids said they were signing on from as far away as Quadra Island, B.C., to St. John's, N.L.
"I feel like people are really hanging on to culinary traditions and food as a means of comfort, as a means of connecting," said Van Rosendaal. "To be able to see kids connecting from across Canada … is pretty cool."
After Tuesday's overwhelming turnout, Van Rosendaal decided to offer two sessions a day for the rest of the culinary course, which wraps up on Friday.
On Wednesday, hundreds of kids put on their chef's hats and aprons to learn how to make pies and pastries, some accompanied by adult sous chefs ready to offer help if needed.
Van Rosendaal fielded baking questions and status updates over Zoom chat as she coached the class on how to shape the dough into a disc and fold in the filling. Some hungry cooks nibbled on ingredients before putting their pastries in the oven.
Évangéline Haché, a 10-year-old in Pincher Creek, Alta., said she was unsure if the apple galettes she made with her brother, Félix, would pass the taste test.
"(I was stressed) that it wasn't going to turn out good, but it turned out really good," Évangéline said.
Their mother, Sheena Adamson, who is a teacher, said it was also a treat to have the kids busy for a few hours so she could focus on getting ready to get back to class.
"I had these guys online doing this, so I could do a bit of work in the background."
Nine-year-old Quinten Santos said the cooking classes give him something fun to look forward to while "bored" at home.
"I wouldn't be able to do them if I was at school, so it's a privilege," he said.
Jennifer Schell said Van Rosendaal's interactive instruction makes kids like her eight-year-old son, Kellan, feel like they're part of something after nearly two years of intermittent social deprivation.
"It just really gave him that connection and confidence," she said. "This little two-hour snippet of each day has just improved the mood around here."
Van Rosendaal said she tries her best to give every chef a shoutout over Zoom, but the class's unexpected popularity has made that a challenge.
"You see their faces light up. It was like seeing yourself on the Jumbotron," she said. "I was so worried that I would miss one. I kept saying, 'I can see you all, even if I'm not saying your name.'"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press