Culinary Students Learn Skills While Giving Back to Community

Students in the Harvest Kitchens program at the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) do much more than learn the necessary skills for a culinary career – they also prepare hundreds of meals a day for people across Toronto who don’t have access to good food.

LEF has partnered with Second Harvest to run the Harvest Kitchens program as part of LEF’s culinary skills training program. The Harvest Kitchens program trains adults and youth who are facing barriers to employment, in food preparation, while at the same time providing healthy prepared meals to our agency partners. Second Harvest delivers raw ingredients to LEF, and working under the supervision of food service professionals, the trainees learn the skills of the trade while turning rescued food into nourishing prepared meals.

During a 17-week session, students prepare over 20,000 meals to people in need across Toronto.

“Every day, Second Harvest delivers fresh food to our kitchen and I plan a menu based on what we get,” says Chef Instructor Patrick McNamara. “Second Harvest gives us the food, we prepare it, and they come back and pick it up. And what they get is hot, nutritious meals to deliver to their agency partners who don’t have kitchens where they can prepare food.”

The Harvest Kitchens program attracts people of all ages – youth who are still finding their way and adults who need a fresh start.


“This system works. It works well for LEF because we train the cooks and it works well for Second Harvest because we help their agencies. In the end, everyone benefits.”


“The program is attractive to people because there are a lot of employment opportunities afterwards,” says Darri Beaulieu, Manager of Development at LEF, adding that many graduates go on to work in hotels and restaurants around the city. Some even find employment on cruise ships and others start their own culinary business.

“The students learn what it’s like to work in an establishment. We often make 500 meals in a day and some days we’re making five or six different dishes so it gives them an idea of what it’s like to bring it all together,” says Patrick, who spent over 25 years working as head chef at various hotels and at Canada’s Wonderland before taking on the teaching role at LEF five years ago.

Recent menu items include roast chicken, pork chilli and beans, chicken wings tossed in honey garlic sauce and beef and potato goulash. All were cooked from food provided by Second Harvest.

“This system works. It works well for LEF because we train the cooks and it works well for Second Harvest because we help their agencies. In the end, everyone benefits,” says Patrick.

Image: Patrick McNamara, Chef Instructor at LEF’s Harvest Kitchens program.