Fanjoy Cooking Up Change: Culinary Counselling Improving Mental Health for Youth

The SDG Cities Academy is a supported, peer-to-peer training opportunity developed and delivered by SDG Cities. The course offered organizations, businesses and individuals a chance to deepen their knowledge about the SDGs and learn how to apply the principles and practices of the framework at the local level. As part of the training Academy participants explore alignment of their work with the SDG framework and dig into their local impact.

The pandemic was tough. Disruptions to work, social life and community activities led many to feel increasingly isolated, lacking the important connections that are so needed. For children and young adults in particular, the pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health. Now more than ever, programs that address growing mental health challenges and help set youth up to live healthy lives are essential. 

Chef Pam Fanjoy, who is also an experienced child and family therapist, uses an innovative culinary therapy approach to help address social isolation and complex mental health challenges faced by youth. While her work with youth began long before the pandemic, new challenges and opportunities to support youth and families have emerged over the last few years.

Fanjoy has been delivering programming for many years using a social enterprise model. Exploring new opportunities, Fanjoy has launched Fanjoy Cooking Up Change, a new nonprofit that will use food, interactive cooking classes and counselling to improve mental and physical health across the lifespan.  Fanjoy Cooking up Change has just recently announced that their new Headquarters will be located at Fanjoy’s Hillsburgh location where her restaurant used to run. Fanjoy has plans to renovate, creating a new culinary studio and fundraising event space that is fully accessible which will be created in the coming months. Chef Pam joined the SDG Cities Academy in January 2022 to learn about how the SDGs could be a foundational element in her work to develop a new nonprofit and to learn from other organizations in the community as they prepared to launch into this new space.

Chef Pam Fanjoy preparing lunch at the Fanjoy Culinary + Wellness Centre. Photos by Jonathon Barraball, Dilettante Hospitality

A Junior Chef Success Story 

The Junior Chef programs, a cornerstone of Fanjoy’s work, have been running out of the former restaurant location in Hillsburgh, the Fanjoy Culinary + Wellness Centre in Guelph and the Nourish Kitchen at 10C. As the programs have grown and developed, Pam has always known the importance of meeting these young people where they are at and is now providing even more flexible opportunities that can really work for youth. Program offerings have now expanded to include summer camps, specialized programs for teens and young adults with Autism and culinary skills classes for youth identifying as LGBTQ2S+.

During a recent visit to Fanjoy Culinary + Wellness Centre we were greeted enthusiastically by Kaleb, a Junior Chef who has been participating in Pam’s programs for 3 years. Kaleb was welcoming and confident as he set out to help Chef Pam prepare lunch on the barbecue. However, Kaleb has not always been so confident, self assured and excited about food. According to Pam and Kaleb’s mom Elizabeth, he came to the program to help address his own mental health challenges and feelings of social isolation. 

Three years later, Kaleb is adept behind the grill and will be starting a part-time job with Fanjoy this summer helping out with culinary programs and the Junior Chef summer camps. As they prepare lunch, Chef Pam and Kaleb work closely together as Kaleb shares some of the important lessons he has learned from his Junior Chef training. 

“We need to work as a team in the kitchen. We need to have good communication and figure out how to make things happen!”

Kaleb, Junior Chef and Fanjoy summer staff member
Junior Chef Kaleb posing with lunch in the Junior Chef Kitchen Garden. Photos by Jonathon Barraball, Dilettante Hospitality

Elizabeth, who has been volunteering at the Culinary + Wellness Centre located on Surrey St. in Guelph expresses how she feels about Kaleb’s new skills and confidence in the kitchen, “I look forward to [when he cooks] – the food is delicious but it is really about watching Kaleb grow”.  

For Chef Pam, working in the kitchen with youth is about building life skills as much as it is about growing their skills and awareness of food. Teaching young people to cook and feel comfortable in the kitchen is one way to address food security at the individual level. “Building culinary skills has clear implications for food security” says Chef Pam. In addition to supporting improved mental health, participating in the Junior Chef program helps to build skills for employment, which is especially important for young adults who might be looking for employment opportunities. 

During our visit Chef Pam and Kaleb prepared applewood smoked ribs, alongside stuffed peppers, grilled corn, asparagus and a salad with freshly harvested lettuce from the Junior Chef garden.

Fresh ingredients and the SDGs. Photos by Jonathon Barraball, Dilettante Hospitality

Culinary Therapy: Healthy Life Skills for Improved Mental Health

The Junior Chef program is just one of the ways Chef Pam connects with people facing mental health struggles and other challenges. She also provides culinary therapy for couples, families and individuals experiencing grief. With many facing barriers, and long wait times for accessing mental health services – offerings like this become even more important. 

Alongside the Junior Chef program, Chef Pam offers culinary therapy programs specifically for LGBTQS2+ youth through Rainbow Connections. This program supports teens as they learn the basics of cooking, in an environment where they can connect with one another and build skills in the 3 C’s – Communication, Collaboration and Cooperation. The culinary therapy model Chef Pam has developed provides an alternative to traditional therapy, using culinary skills training and cooking activities to create an environment where people can feel more comfortable. Chef Pam is currently looking for partners and sponsors to be able to expand this program to reach more youth.  

Chef Pam Fanjoy with Kalab, Cai, a Child & Youth Worker at Fanjoy, and Shadow Fanjoy’s new therapy dog. Photos by Jonathon Barraball, Dilettante Hospitality

Are you interested in supporting this work? Chef Pam is currently looking for volunteers, donors and corporate sponsors to support ongoing programs and new initiatives for youth with visible and invisible disabilities. Support from the community will be important as Chef Pam and her team prepare to transform their old restaurant in Hillsburgh into a new fully accessible culinary studio. A fundraising campaign launching soon will help raise funds to continue building out services in Guelph this fall, including reaping the first fall harvest from the Junior Chef garden. Contact Chef Pam at to learn more about how you can be a part of this work.

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