At Sonshine, every aspect of our program is infused with dedication and passion, and our cooking and nutrition program is a shining example of this commitment. Meet Chef Melissa Bakovic, the heart and soul behind our culinary endeavors.
As a firm believer in the importance of nutrition, Melissa highlights how providing nourishment to the children fuels their bodies and minds, enabling them to thrive and be happier individuals. In this interview, Melissa shares her favorite aspects of working at Sonshine, emphasizing the joy of interacting with the children, collaborating with the staff, and enjoying the flexibility of her position.
Q: What made you get into this line of work?
“Well, my background is a Red Seal Chef and I’ve spent many years in the food and hospitality industry. This is my first daycare job, I’ve never done this before and at the time I was kind of like ‘oh it’s good for now’, and now I’m going into year 5 so I obviously love it!”
Q: What do you think is the most important aspect of what you do?
“Nutrition. If the children are fed, if bodies are fed and if brains are fed, children can function, self-regulate, have more energy and just generally be happier people.”
Q: What milestones have you celebrated recently?
“We celebrated 2 years of protein power this year and we did an anniversary episode. Going back and seeing all the children highlighted over the years made me realize just how many families are impacted. To be at the forefront of that is truly honorable. I get to see how the families work together and see their relationships develop.”
Q: What do you enjoy most about working with food?
“I’m a chef by trade and cooking is my passion. As much as you’d think feeding kids would be simple, it’s not! They are my harshest critics and keep me on my toes because I’m constantly thinking about what they are going to eat.”
Q: What’s the harshest criticism you’ve ever received?
“Haha! One of them was ‘there’s too many green specs’, another one said ‘my mashed potatoes are too lumpy’ but my favourite is ‘next time you cut the carrots can you please cut them in long sticks and not round circles because the circles don’t taste good’. Once I was told ‘please don’t ever make this again’! If they don’t like something they won’t let me forget it.”
Q: What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
“When I walk into the classroom, all the kids run up to me and want to know what they’re having for lunch and snacks. They always thank me, whenever I see them during the day. I get told I’m the best cook in the world, not just from them, but the parents too! I definitely get a lot of compliments and told how much the families love my food, more than any complaints of course.”
Q: What excites you most about this program and it’s potential for the future?
“I’d love to do more with the residential families. Unfortunately, we haven’t had much success with that yet due to the pandemic affecting operations. Our daycare is also completely full now which means we are all busier than we used to be. I’d love to have the moms come down and cook with the kids more often.”
Q: Do you think that the cooking program at Sonshine offers more than others in the city?
“When I compare it to other shelters I’ve worked at, and I would definitely say there’s something special here. Everyone is so open minded to any suggestions I make! I have a lot of information in my head and a lot of ideas, and anything I’ve ever brought forward has been really well-received.”
Q: What is your favourite recipe to make?
“Probably soup. I love making soups because of the nutritional aspect and they remind me of wholesome home cookery. It’s warm and comforting, it’s something you start in the morning, and you can leave it all day and it makes the kitchen smell delicious.”
Q: Why did you start ‘Protein Power’?
“We get a monthly protein donated to us and we wanted to make sure that the parents knew how to use it in a way that was budget-friendly, child-friendly and simple. We work with everything including meats, eggs and plant-based proteins like beans and lentils.
Melissa’s commitment to her role as Sonshine’s Resident Chef shines through her dedication to nourishing the children and fostering a positive impact on countless lives.