When the Filipino Family Cooking Group meets at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre, it feels like a true family gathering. Bold simmering spices waft throughout the kitchen while laughter and lively conversation fills the air. This unique community kitchen program might feel like home, but it’s striving to do Filipino cuisine differently—cooking up healthier versions of family favourites.
Led by Abby Legaspi, Cooking & Food Skills Programmer at NorWest, the group draws members of the large Filipino community in Winnipeg's Inkster neighbourhood, most of whom are newcomers to Canada. Diabetes is a prevalent health issue in Inkster, and Legaspi hopes the program is one way to help to improve diet and health across the community.
But don’t let the name fool you. The Filipino Family Cooking Group is open to anyone who’s interested in learning more about Filipino cuisine, bringing diverse community members together over a common bond: cooking good food. And according to Abby, the group is helping build friendships: “I see people eating together during the community lunches and outside the Community Food Centre.”
The diversity of the Inkster community is reflected in all of NorWest's programming, sprouting up in the gardens as well. Stephanie Fulford, NorWest’s Garden & Food Skills Programmer, plants crops native to Filipino cuisine like long eggplant, bottle gourd, bitter melon, okra, and kinchay
(Chinese cilantro). “It tastes different when you’re picking it fresh and cooking it in the food,” Abby notes. And community members are loving it, as many of these ingredients are hard to find in local markets.
New and different ingredients inspire innovative recipes in the Filipino Family Cooking Group kitchen, with Abby at the helm pushing her group to have fun with flavours. “They can try it first at the Community Food Centre: they can feel free to experiment without spending the money.” When the group cooks their favourite dish—paella—they replace the white rice, a staple in Filipino cuisine, with healthier alternatives. So far, wild rice is the winner.
All of NorWest Co-op CFC’s staff takes inspiration from the positive changes they see in people’s health. “When a person shares their story about how the centre changed their eating habits and cooking skills, how it increased their ability to see food in a different perspective, it fuels our fire to work harder.” And the community is grateful for it.