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Creating Independence in the Kitchen

Published on March 30, 2023

Cooking is an essential life skill that not only provides sustenance but also promotes independence, self-sufficiency and creativity. For some members of the community, cooking can be a challenging task due to physical or cognitive limitations. However, with the right support and resources, anyone can learn to cook and enjoy delicious meals.

OnTrack Tasmania’s Making Tracks is a program designed to support people with a disability to achieve their goals and improve their quality of life. One of the streams of Making Tracks is the cooking classes. The cooking classes provides practical skills, social interactions, and a sense of accomplishment.

The cooking program at OnTrack Tasmania is a two-hour class that is tailored to our member’s individual needs and preferences. When a new participating member walks into the Hub kitchen, they will be cheerfully greeted by our program leader Gavin. Using his 25 years of experience in the industry cooking, Gavin can cater to different dietary requirements, cultural backgrounds, and cooking levels. Members may require assistance with physical tasks such as chopping, stirring, or serving up the freshly made food, while others may need support with reading recipes or measuring ingredients. The program is delivered in small groups, where members can learn about food sourcing, cooking techniques, cooking food from various nationalities and ways to stay safe in the kitchen.

To ensure the success of the program, it is essential to involve participants in the planning and evaluation process. Participants can provide feedback on their experiences, suggest dishes, and share their achievements and challenges. The classes are fun and full of discussion on various interesting food. Fresh herbs sit on the windowsill while everyone talks about how to make a healthy and delicious version of dishes they know like Kentucky Fried Chicken. The skills that members learn can be used in everyday living and knowledge that they express in the kitchen is celebrated.

At a recent class the menu was a beef stroganoff with homemade pasta. The lesson started with Gavin and participant Jessie writing down the recipe and discussing the Russian recipe including questions about measurements, where the ingredients are sourced and how ingredients effect the taste of the dish. Jessie was named professional pasta maker and proved his skill when feeding newly made pasta dough through a pasta maker.

Jackie soon joined the class and eagerly helped Jessie to flatten the pasta while Jessie turned the handle moving the pasta through. Jackie took a break soon after for a cup of coffee with her support worker. Jackie has been an OnTrack Tasmania participant for two years and usually joins the cooking classes on Friday. The class discusses likes and dislikes in tastes with talk about what will be on the next week. Seafood, sweet lemon tarts or maybe an apple turnover? Jackie has a lemon tree at home and she offered to bring some for the lemon tarts.

The rest of the ingredients including beef, mushrooms and onions were chopped to prepare for the sauce and thrown in a pot. As the pot was placed on the stove and the heat was turned on high, there was discussion on safety around the hot environment. Both Jessie and Jackie took turns keeping an eye on the pot, stirring and making sure the food doesn’t burn. Gavin measured out the cut pasta, measuring out portions for the participants of the cooking program, support workers and other OnTrack Tasmania participants who were taking advantage of the gaming sessions in room next door.  Once the pasta and beef stroganoff were cooked, it was served in bowls and topped with a small amount of parsley to those who wanted it.

During the class, Gavin stated that “This is the job for me!”  wanting to make a difference in the community and mentor the members to achieve goals and nurture the love for cooking. This program inspires members to apply newly learned skills in their own kitchen. Gavin has many ideas for the future of the cooking program, such as growing more ingredients outside the door from the kitchen and cooking a long lunch for members and staff to show what the cooking program can accomplish.