The Kitchen, a learning and community kitchen facility located on the second floor of the Stanley A. Milner Library, is finally ready to open to the public this month.
Although the renovated downtown branch of the Edmonton Public Library has been open since September 2020, many of its plans for group-based, in-person activities were postponed due to the pandemic. Now, with the further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, The Kitchen can operate as intended.
"The primary objective of The Kitchen is to create learning opportunities to help increase knowledge and grow interest in food literacy and nutrition, and to teach skills that would be transferable into a home kitchen environment," said Karen Chidiak, the EPL's manager of marketing and communications.
The facility will offer courses in cooking, baking, and other food-related matters either directly or through partner organizations.
"We also want to make The Kitchen available to community groups and others looking to build connections or share cultural practices with food," Chidiak said. "Finally, we hope to make our space available to entrepreneurs looking to explore starting food-related businesses and in need of space and equipment to help them start out."
The 2,100 square feet of space can accommodate up to 36 participants at workstations, and it is equipped with commercial-grade ovens and ventilation systems alongside more traditional at-home appliances like stand mixers.
Pre-registration is required for the virtual sneak peek sessions running March 19 and 20. So far, workshops featuring Fox Burger's Sean O'Connor on pancakes and Pei Pei Chei Ow's chef Scott Iserhoff on Indigenous potato pancakes already have waitlists, and sessions on preparing a Spanish-themed supper, brownie baking, and cocktails are filling up fast.
More than two dozen hospitality professionals from restaurants and food-related businesses have already donated their time and expertise to help get The Kitchen up and running, and the library is open to including others. "Many Edmonton chefs and community experts are passionate about bringing culinary literacy skills to Edmontonians and offered to share their knowledge, expertise and platforms," said Chidiak. "As we identify the types of classes that help create a culture of learning through cooking, we expect more contributions from local experts."
The intended audience for The Kitchen is broad. "The primary focus is helping everyday Edmontonians be more informed and comfortable with cooking, nutrition, and food preparation," Chidiak said. "We will also be offering some entry-level cooking classes that can act as a precursor or step towards more advanced learning."
While virtual classes are free of charge, The Kitchen may charge fees that reflect the cost of ingredients as it adds in-person classes beginning in April. Chidiak acknowledged the challenges some participants may have on cost, and said the library is trying to minimize these barriers. "For example, thanks to a grant received by Pei Pei Chei Ow, they will provide grocery cards to support the purchase of ingredients for low-income families."
Chidiak noted that staff will be reflecting in six months on how The Kitchen is meeting the needs of its customers, and noted it has the flexibility to explore different types of classes and partnerships.
"The Kitchen is another example of EPL's commitment to providing creative spaces and places for people to learn through hands-on experiences, collaborate and build community connections," she said. "We hope to become a resource for multifaceted access to food-related learning, community-building, and entrepreneurship."