Mentorship in the kitchen: Matthew Cole, (center) Community Relations, U.S. Eastern Region, has mentored this group of girls for six years while they compete in the Vermont Jr. Iron Chef competition. Left to right: Jordan Labonte, Lexi Reinerston, Cole, Whitney Murdock and Abbi Molner. Photo credit: Karen Molina
Matthew Cole is a self-proclaimed foodie. By volunteering with an after-school program in his home town of Wilmington, Vt., he not only has a chance to share his passion for food and cooking, but helps a group of local students develop important skills and prepare for an annual state-wide Jr. Iron Chef competition.
Cole works in TransCanada’s Community Relations department in the U.S. Eastern Region, but has a passion for cooking. When his friend, the chef at a local middle school, started a food-based after-school program, Cole jumped on the opportunity to participate. Starting with 16 students in 2008, the program now has nearly 75 participants.
“This is a passion of mine,” says Cole, who is mentoring a group of Grade 6 girls this year. “It’s wonderful because they are interested in food, nutrition and kitchen safety, then they go home and cook all this great food for their parents.”
“I wanted to share my knowledge with others, and who better than children? The program is fun and educational and an opportunity for teamwork.”
– Matthew Cole, Community Relations, U.S. Eastern Region
During the after-school program, students break into small teams. Using ingredients available in the school kitchen – fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and grains – they are tasked with creating an original recipe.
“We get great feedback from the students. We teach them how to hold a knife, how to cut a carrot, how to stir things without getting burned. Mentoring students is far more fun than if I were to open my own restaurant.”
Cole’s group has decided to compete with an Asian-inspired tofu vegetable stew of cabbage, carrots, onions, parsnips and cilantro. They have high hopes; in the past, Cole mentored a group that received “Best in Show” with their signature vegetarian chili. Before the team can head off to the state Jr. Iron Chef competition, the school holds a local event where dishes are judged. If the group is successful at the local competition, they will represent Twin Valley School at the state level in March.
Winning competitions isn’t the only perk to participating in the afterschool program; last year some of the students had the opportunity to cook with TV personality Myron Mixon from the reality TV show BBQ Pitmasters.
“Each year the communities in the area put on a ‘Taste of the Valley’ food festival, which gets people out enjoying food and entertainment,” says Cole.
“Because of our great reputation at the state level, our program was asked to help [Mixon] and other local chefs with demonstrations. The kids were excited to be part of the fun and assist him.”
TransCanada aims to support employees like Matthew Cole in the worthy causes within their communities by matching their personal contributions and through programs that encourage volunteerism during work hours and personal time. Almost 2,000 members of TransCanada’s workforce are employed in over 33 states across the U.S.