FOCUS: SuperChefs cook up a culinary education for kids, from Surrey to New York (photos, video)

A Surrey dentist’s program goes global with a message that touts healthy eating for kids

SuperChefs executive chef Victor Bongo (left)

SURREY — Jimi Hendrix. Revolutionary guitar god, right? He was a rock pioneer, one of the most famous names in modern music, yet few people realize Hendrix first became a household name not in his native America, but in England.

It was there he formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience, wrote several of his most notable songs and began to receive the accolades he so richly deserved. In fact, Hendrix was such an unknown in America that upon his return to it, in 1967, he and the Experience toured for eight dates as a backup act to… The Monkees.

Dr. Greg Chang can likely relate to Jimi’s 1967 situation. The guy’s spent the last few years developing a multifaceted brand/program/system focusing on healthy eating for kids. It’s called SuperChefs and it’s pretty much exploded on the American and world stages. Yet it’s only just catching fire here at home.

But let’s back up a bit.

I met up with Chang at Central City Shopping Centre last Friday, where he and some of the SuperChefs gang staged a series of demonstrations designed to show off their concept of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle.

“I’m a dentist, right in this mall,” said Chang, who was born and raised in Vancouver but has called Surrey home since 1992.

(PICTURED: Jill Conklin and Dr. Greg Chang with the SuperChefs program. Photo by Gord Goble)

“I’ve practiced here for 30 years,” he continued, “and I continually saw lots of kids with decay and bad eating habits. I happened to love cooking – my mom taught me to cook from a very young age and was a real inspiration – so I kinda put two and two together and thought we should really teach kids what they should be eating so they’ll have better oral health, and better lives.”

In a corridor at Central City mall, the emphasis was on playfulness. Over there, a bicycle – but not just any old bicycle. This particular model was hooked up to an old-school grain mill, so the faster you pedalled, the more grain you’d make. The kids loved it.

There were several more games/demos scattered throughout the area, including one called “Rethink Your Drink.” Here, SuperChefs reps set out a variety of common beverages – soda, sports drinks, fruit juice, milk, chocolate milk, iced tea and water. They’d then ask kids to guess which drinks contained the most sugar.

Water and milk were the best options, but some of the results surprised the children. Fruit juice – the kind that comes from concentrate – was shockingly high. And when it was revealed that inside the can of soda lurked no fewer than 17 cubes of sugar (!), the reaction was palpable.

(PICTURED: A crowd gathers around Jill Conklin, SuperChefs program director, to help make ice cream from liquid nitrogen. Photo by Gord Goble)

Manning the Rethink Your Drink zone was Sav Dhatt and her brother Arsh, Surrey siblings whose enthusiasm for Superchefs is matched only by their naturally upbeat personalities. The 21-year-old Sav has been with SuperChefs for some time now and has been integral in the operation of its “Summer Camp” initiative here.

“I’m running the team at Sullivan (Heights Secondary) now,” she explained. “I’ve been involved for four years. I started off volunteering. When I volunteered, I fell in love with the kids. That’s my biggest thing about the camps – working with kids. The next year, I was offered to be one of the co-ordinators, and I fell more in love with it.”

Currently, the Superchefs Summer Camp program runs at two Surrey secondary schools, Sullivan Heights and Queen Elizabeth, every summer. It consists of culinary, nutritive and activity components, and is operated in conjunction with partners such as the Surrey school district and Service Canada.

“It’s our signature program,” Chang said. “We bring in kids at no charge – over 160 kids this summer, no charge. They’ll cook in the morning, and they’ll do a nutrition lesson with our dietetic students from UBC. And in the afternoon they’ll do basketball.”

“We get them to run after they’ve been in the kitchen,” he added, smiling.

“Essentially, we have programs, or pillars, that try to get kids to put on their best FACES. ‘F’ as in food literacy, ‘A’ as in awareness of food systems, ‘C’ as in competent in their food skills, ‘E’ as in engaged in physical activity and ‘S’ as in savour balanced food choices. All our activities surround those pillars.”

(PICTURED: Siblings Arsh, in hat, and Sav Dhatt work the “Rethink Your Drink” table. Photo by Gord Goble)

Given the success of the Summer Camps, more are likely on the horizon. Indeed, to help spread the word about this and more, SuperChefs will hold a media event on Thursday, Aug. 11 at Queen Elizabeth Secondary.

“It’s media only,” Chang said, “but we’re also going to have a cookery showcase just for media kids where, while the media parents learn about the SuperChefs program, their kids will be with (SuperChefs executive chef) Victor Bongo learning how to make pasta and flip crepes.”

Chang goes on to point out the similarities between this media event and one they held in New York in 2014. And that’s where the Hendrix reference comes into play.

You see, the 2014 event announced the launch of “Kids Eat Well,” a menu SuperChefs developed for all the Westin hotels and resorts worldwide. It was held at the hoity-toity Westin New York Grand Central, and when all was said and done, Chang figured it garnered no less than 200 million impressions on the internet (most linked back to Superchefs.tv).

And that’s the kind of stuff SuperChefs has been doing with some regularity outside of Canada.

“We don’t offer French fries on the menu,” Chang said about the program, now three years old. “The default is fresh vegetables.”

Just created was a refresh called “Mission Delicious,” whereby SuperChefs now work with Westin chefs to influence how they’re coming up with recipe development.

“So Lisa Kimmel, our dietician, in charge of Wellness at Yale, is leading the nutrition part, and Jill (Conklin, SuperChefs program director) is overseeing the recipes from a culinary standpoint,” Chang explained.

Conklin, who’s as enthusiastic as everyone else associated with the program, made the trip from her New York home to Surrey for the Central City event, and had lots to say about the Westin partnership and more.

“What was interesting is that all these different recipes from Westin chefs from around the world – things like dosa (a pancake made from fermented batter) compared to a creative oat lollipop for breakfast to a chick pea waffle, things from breakfast, dinner and dessert – they submitted them, and what Lisa and I are working on is ensuring that their recipes meet the caloric, sodium and fat and overall sugar consumption that (scientists) have suggested.”

She continued.

“When you have a chef in India, for example, who submits something that’s really nutrient-rich, it’s interesting the perspective you get when we start to strip that away from a guideline perspective where everything is just based on science.

“Currently,” Conklin  added, “our creative and nutrition and dietetic specialists, with all of our programming and menu (development), are New York- and Connecticut-based. So we are founded in Surrey and we’re Surrey-based, but we are global as a team.”

Chang talked about his other SuperChefs-centric endeavours, like how he went to clown college after dental school, and how he met a “Sesame Street” writer through his association with circus jugglers who helped him write a TV show and develop characters now used in many SuperChefs initiatives. He created a video game, too, but then “took it off the market because video games are part of the reason kids are obese.” Also, he still loves his Surrey dental practice because being “chairside” remains one of his great joys in life.

Ultimately, you feel there must be three or four Greg Changs because surely one person couldn’t have done all of this. And maybe one day his “baby” – SuperChefs – will have the recognition in Canada it does elsewhere.

“I haven’t done much media locally because we’ve had such great media success in New York – the communications capital of the world,” he said. “That’s why we’re having the Aug. 11 event. The (local) MP is coming, the dean of (program partner) UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems is coming, one of the Surrey school trustees is coming, and we’ll educate the press what SuperChefs is all about.”

Goble@shaw.ca

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