Kitchen Party or Cooking Therapy

Kate’s Kitchen, Healing Through Food and Storytelling

by Heidi Pyper

On the surface, the group of women sidled up against the counters at FoodShare Toronto on a Monday night look like any gathering at a party that’s ended up in the kitchen. They’re swapping stories, talking food and family. But there’s something a little different. They’ve come together to learn the skills to prepare a menu, thoughtfully selected for both its health benefits and deliciousness by nutritionist and chef, Katie Compton-Chemij. The women, 15 or so, are as varied in age and cultural backgrounds as the menus they prepare, they’re also in treatment for, or in remission from breast cancer.

The women pick up threads of conversation from previous meet-ups. Compton-Chemij skillfully leads the group through the recipes for the evening. Some of the women have never prepared a meal before, others are competent home cooks – all skill levels are welcome. What unites these women is at times the focal point of the evening’s conversation, but often it’s left at the door for other matters such as excitement about a seasonal vegetable making appearances on grocery shelves, how to integrate kale into more meals, what makes the perfect roti, or an amazing cupcake recipe.

“Food is a foundation for healing. I think that when we’re eating well, we feel well, and I believe that eating a nutrient-rich diet is key to a strong recovery. It’s also something we have control over but, if you don’t know how to cook, or what to cook, it can be challenging in an already challenging time,” says Shelley McCaughtry, the group’s facilitator and Kate’s Kitchen participant since 2010. As much as food is a part of good health, it’s also a wonderful connector, a language of its own. It inspires storytelling and memories of meals shared with friends and family, of countries left behind or cherished traditions. It’s no wonder that during these meetings the conversation is often a cathartic experience. The women who participate in Kate’s Kitchen use words like “profound” and “transformative” to describe their experience. Being together on their journey with cancer, outside of a hospital setting, learning a skill, forging friendships – all of it is part of building a healthier community.

Kate’s Kitchen was started in 2006 by FoodShare special projects coordinator, Kate Sigurdson, who organized the community kitchen to provide opportunities for women following a breast cancer diagnosis to learn vegetable-centred recipes together and to foster a sense of community among participants. Kate died of breast cancer in 2007. Part of her legacy is the group of women who continued to meet and maintain what she started. The fact that she and others who have participated in the group have died is a grim reminder of the disease they face, but the meetings are not sombre affairs. On the contrary, food and cooking together is a salve.

This year, Compton-Chemij and McCaughtry will be adding a new group in FoodShare’s new location at 120 Industry Street. There’s years of recipes and ideas, all to share.

“We really feel that Kate’s Kitchen is a gem that needs to be shared,” says Compton-Chemij. “We hear over and over again from the women how much this one night a month means to them and we want to expand that healing and hope to one day build a network of kitchens and share what we know, how we started and what it takes to keep us going.”

Kate’s Kitchen has been generously supported by Hain Celestial Canada for five years.

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 Recipes from Kate’s Kitchen

Freekeh “Risotto” with Asparagus & Mushrooms


12oz fresh or Europe’s Best Asparagus
4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 tablespoon Spectrum Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup chopped green onion, white and green parts included
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 cup Casbah Freekeh or Ancient Grain Blend
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup goat cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste


1. If using fresh asparagus, snap off ends of asparagus stalks. Peel asparagus stalks with a vegetable peeler; cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Steam until just tender, about 3 minutes. Set aside.  If using frozen, lay asparagus on a paper towel-lined pan and allow to thaw completely.  Cut asparagus on a diagonal in 1 ½ to 2 inch pieces.  Set aside.

2. Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan or in the microwave; keep warm. Heat oil in a heavy, wide pan over medium heat. Add scallions, shiitakes and thyme.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add Freekeh and stir for 1 minute. Add wine and stir until evaporated, about 1 minute.

3. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot broth and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue cooking, adding enough broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring frequently, until the Freekeh is just tender and the mixture has a slightly saucy consistency, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses and the reserved asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Makes 4 servings

Mixed Berry Crisp



6 cups Europe’s Best 4-Field Berry Mix
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated orange rind, from whole orange
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cooking spray


1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1 cup flake oats
Pinch sea salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)
6 tablespoons chilled butter, or Spectrum Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, cut into small chunks


1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. To prepare filling: Combine the first 5 ingredients. Spoon into an 8×8–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

3. To prepare topping: Combine flour and next 4 ingredients, if using almonds, in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle topping over filling. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes.  Serve warm with ice cream.

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