Barb Finley is the Executive Director and Founder of Project CHEF: Cook Healthy Edible Food, a non-profit society that runs elementary school and community programs in Vancouver, BC. Since 2007, Project CHEF has taught more than 17,500 children and their families about wholesome food choices and how they can make them through experiential, curriculum-based programs.
Barb is an educator (UBC BEd’81, MEd’90) and chef. She has taught with the Langley and Vancouver School Districts; a faculty advisor and sessional instructor UBC Faculty of Education; and an instructor with Dubrulle Culinary Institute and Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. A passionate advocate for teaching food education to children and families, she has developed culinary programs throughout Greater Vancouver.
Barb’s work with Project CHEF has been honoured by several awards, including being inducted into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame (2019), receiving the Governor General of Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal (2018), Canadian Foodservice Professionals Community Leadership Award (2016), the Maple Leaf Foods Feed it Forward Award (2016), the BC School Superintendents Award of Recognition for contributions to public education (2013), and the Les Dames d’Escoffier, BC Chapter Debra Van Ginkel Award (2008). Barb is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, BC Chapter, and is a past Trustee with the Canada Post Foundation for Children.
What is your most memorable experience from your time in the Faculty of Education?
Having spent a significant amount of time in the UBC Faculty of Education as an undergraduate and graduate student, and as a faculty advisor and sessional instructor, I have many memories associated with the Faculty of Education. Most memorable are the relationships I have made. Many students, colleagues and faculty became lifelong friends whom I have learned from, been inspired by, and who have challenged my thinking, all contributing to my continued growth as an educator.
Where has your education from the Faculty of Education taken you in your career?
I began my career in Langley and Vancouver School Districts where I taught elementary-aged children. After completing my M Ed, I worked with the Faculty of Education as a faculty associate and sessional instructor.
As a child whose mother turned seasonal ingredients into daily family meals, I grew up learning to cook by her side and eating home-cooked meals with family and friends. As a teacher, I discovered that this is often not the case and I have witnessed packed lunches consisting of a bag of chips and a cola.
While teaching elementary school, to lure children from packaged food toward more wholesome, diverse fare, I would often use cooking in my classroom as a vehicle to teach different curriculum areas. I would have the children work cooperatively to read recipes, measure, combine and cook ingredients into a variety of foods we would then sit and enjoy together. I would try to open doors to different cultures, their foods, flavours and ways of eating. We would study food choices and the nutritional composition of food.
As a teacher educator, I was in many classrooms in many school districts and I discovered my zeal for cooking and food was not shared by all. My non-professional interest in cooking grew and I formulated a plan that would allow me to combine my passions in a new way. Combining my love of teaching and cooking I returned to culinary school, training at the Dubrulle Culinary Institute, then taught in the professional culinary and pastry programs at Dubrulle Culinary Institute, Arts Institute and at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver.
I designed a number of food education programs for children throughout the Lower Mainland, including Dubrulle Culinary Institute, Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, Vista d’Oro Farms, Dirty Apron Cooking School, Quince Culinary, a high school Life Skills program, and private schools.
Wanting to develop a program that could reach all children in public schools, in 2007 I developed the curriculum-based, not-for-profit school program, Project CHEF and began implementation in Vancouver School District elementary schools. Since that time Project CHEF has taught over 17,500 Vancouver children and over 8,000 parent and community volunteers about food and how to prepare it.
Through the years, we have expanded the programs we teach to include school-wide in-residence programs, an intergenerational program where children cook and share food with seniors, an after-school program, and spring break and summer camps.
Where do issues of inclusion find a place in your life or at work?
Teaching tuition-based cooking programs in the lower mainland was satisfying but I realized I was teaching to a limited demographic and, in a sense, preaching to the choir. Project CHEF visits public schools in all areas of Vancouver, reaching a diverse population of children of all abilities and varied backgrounds. We invite parents and community volunteers into the classroom kitchens, believing we have much to share and much to learn from others. Food brings people together and creating and sharing food provides opportunities for positive learning experiences for all
Do you have any words of wisdom for current students? Newly graduated folks?
Teaching Project CHEF is the most rewarding thing I have done in my career, but it was not on my radar when I graduated from the UBC Faculty of Education. I feel very fortunate to have been an educator and learner both inside the school system and outside of it. Both have provided experiences that have strengthened my pedagogy. I would suggest to a beginning teacher to continue to challenge yourself throughout your career: explore new experiences, ways of learning and engaging students. Open yourself to learning from the community around you.