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Community Kitchen connects immigrants and locals, one plate at a time

The free program invites immigrants to share the recipes of their homeland

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It's been said that you have to taste a culture to understand it.

Fortunately for Whistler, there's a kitchen in Spring Creek that serves up a little cultural understanding, one meal at a time.

Community Kitchen is an initiative led by the Whistler Multicultural Network (WMN) that invites immigrants to share the recipes of their native country.

"It's a place where local immigrants can meet community members on a regular basis," explained WMN outreach worker Barbora Vanickova. "People meet together, they cook together, they share the stories behind the recipes and then they also eat together. It's really cool."

Over the past year, program participants have learned to make everything from maki sushi to Slovakian cabbage soup, and Venezuelan corn-flour arepas to sopaipillas con pebre, a Chilean pumpkin fried dough.

But more than just a showcase of ethnic cuisines from around the globe, Community Kitchen is one way to bridge the gap between resort newcomers and the longtime locals that call Whistler home.

"(This program) is very important because it encourages (immigrants), and they feel like a valuable part of society," Vanickova said. "As well, the community members who live here get to learn something about other cultures. It's basically an amazing opportunity because everyone wants to know about other cultures — we all love to travel.

"You can actually meet other cultures without going anywhere."

Although she recognized the inclusivity of the resort, Vanickova said settling in Whistler is not without its challenges.

"I think Whistler is a really open community, but there certainly could be difficulties and that's why it's important to keep these (events) going," she added. The multicultural network also hosts weekly drop-in sessions every Friday at the library as a way for immigrants to connect over a cup of coffee.

Sometimes, Vanickova said, just breaking bread with someone you may never otherwise meet is enough to push an immigrant out of their shell, like the Japanese woman who was inspired in part by her time in the Community Kitchen to pursue her dream of becoming a pastry chef.

"(Food) is a great boundary breaker," said Vanickova. "It's always been, and it always will be."

Community Kitchen was made possible this year through a $1,025 grant from the Community Foundation of Whistler. Vanickova is hopeful the program builds on its momentum into the New Year. "We would definitely like to continue Community Kitchen because it really feels like people respond to it," she said.

The WMN also puts on the Whistler Multicultural Festival every summer, where amateur cooks who took part in Community Kitchen can host their own food stand. The event also features live performances and hands-on activities. The 2017 festival is scheduled for Friday, June 9. Anyone with ideas for food, activities or performances for next year's event can email info@whistlermulticulturalnetwork.com or call 604-698-5960. The next Community Kitchen is set for Dec. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Whistler Community Service Society Building at 1519 Spring Creek Dr. It will be hosted by Vanickova herself, who will share her recipe for traditional Czech Christmas pastries and cookies.

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