Too many cooks spoil the broth? Not at Corrimal High

A multi-generational cook-off is bringing students and community elders closer. Julee Brienen reports.

A group of people gather around a table where they are plating up desserts
Image: Sweet work: Belgian volunteer elder Helene Rolet with Allyson Pazos and students putting the finishing touches on the Belgian waffles.

It was spatulas and measuring spoons at five spaces at Corrimal High School yesterday as members of the community worked with students in the Multicultural, Multigenerational Cook-Off.

Corrimal High, on the lands of the Wadi Wadi people, joined with the Multicultural Communities Illawarra for the annual event bringing together volunteer community elders and eager students with a passion for cooking.

According to teacher Kaz Bent, the end result was not just delicious food, but important community connections for the school.

“It’s such a fabulous event and a great opportunity for these young people to connect with elders and learn about other countries, the elders’ experiences in arriving in Australia, and how their cuisine helps shape who they are,” Ms Bent said.

“Spending time with the elders, getting to know them, where they are from, how food plays a part of their life and the importance of food in connecting people, is so valuable to the students and an experience that has been meaningful for everyone involved.”

The cook-off teams represented Belgium, India, Peru, the former Yugoslavia, and Aboriginal Australia, and included one volunteer elder from each community working with four to five students to produce a delicious array of food, and a cookbook.

Kangaroo meatballs, chapli kebabs, goulash, arroz con pollo, and potato stir fry were followed by belgian waffles, lemon myrtle and wattleseed cake, and delectable al fajores – all made by the students and their elders who started cooking the feast at 8.30am.

MCCI youth and community manager Allyson Pazos said food had always been a great way to connect people from different cultures and different generations.

“Cooking is fun, and there is so much value in intergenerational connections,” she said.

“Through this experience students have not only learned about the foods of different cultures, they listen to the personal stories of the volunteer elders, and find that there are more similarities between the elders and themselves than there are differences.

“The students have shown great respect for the elders, and the elders have been able to share knowledge and their unique life experiences through the program.

“The students cooking with Belgian elder Helene Rolet were really touched to be able to cook from a recipe in Helene’s 70-year-old high school cookbook. I could see how much of an impression that personal momento of Helene’s mean to the students.”

A young man emptying a bowl of chicken into a pot while an older woman supervises.
Image: Ruling the roost: Peruvian volunteer elder Bertha Quiros with student Kai Nguyen-Roberts preparing arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).

Year 10 student Kai Nguyen-Roberts who worked with Peruvian volunteer Bertha Quiros said he loved to cook and that the experience gave him an appreciation for older people in the community and what they could teach young people.

“Working with Bertha really reminded me of my Nan and her experiences in coming to Australia,” Kai said.

“Sorting through the different spice mixes, brought back a lot of familiar smells, and I really felt a nostalgia for my Nan and her backyard kitchen set up, with pots and pans hanging everywhere.”

Year 10 student Laura Kirkland, who cooked with Indian elder Rebecca Ellis, said she learned a lot about Indian culture.

“Rebecca told us a lot about Indian culture and what things are like in India,” she said.

“There were a lot of spices I’d never seen before. The experience of working in a team was great and I’m really keen on the tasting part!”

Indian volunteer Rebecca Ellis, who was born in India and moved to Australia 35 years ago, said she had a great deal of experience cooking with students and running community Indian cooking classes.

“It’s absolutely wonderful,” Rebecca said, “the students here were very interested and very involved in all aspects including learning about Indian culture as well as cooking traditional Indian food.”

Student Jasmine Khan-Speechly said cooking with Aboriginal elder Karen Dale felt comfortable and like cooking with family.

“I’m Aboriginal and I know a lot about these foods (kangaroo, lemon myrtle) through cooking with my Nan,” Jasmine said.

“Cooking with kangaroo can be tricky because it’s a much leaner cut of meat.”

Ms Dale said cooking with the students had been a fun experience and that being able to introduce some of them to new foods was highlight.

“There was some reaction at first to using kangaroo meat, but they gave it a go and really enjoyed it,” she said.

“I’m one of 13 kids and I’m used to cooking with and around young people, and for lot of people. I certainly think we had the most food of any group at the cook-off.”

Corrimal High School principal Paul Roger said the cook-off was a resounding success.

“It’s so important for us to have all kinds of community connections,” Mr Roger said.


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