From chaplain to chef: how Western Sydney University staff are bringing students together with virtual cooking classes

Community and cooking go hand in hand at WSU's Campus Living Village. ...

One Western Sydney University Chaplain’s passion for creating community and social connections won’t be flickered out by COVID-19 restrictions.

At the front of this operation is Daniel Jantos, the Chaplaincy Coordinator at Western Sydney University. llustration: Canva

The Chaplaincy team offers an online soup kitchen program that runs each Wednesday from 5:30 pm. The experience promises a fresh, wholesome meal, ready in less than an hour, prepared under the guidance of your Chaplaincy team. Grocery packs, filled with ingredients needed for the recipe of the day, are delivered to the Campus Living Village front desk for on-campus students to pick up.

If you live off campus, you are still welcome to join. The team will do their very best to get the ingredients to all interested students at their designated addresses. Students then join the zoom call or tune into Instagram live and cook alongside the Chaplaincy team. They follow a recipe and turn the fresh ingredients into a scrumptious meal.

At the front of this operation is Daniel Jantos, the Chaplaincy Coordinator at Western Sydney University. The Chaplaincy team offers a caring presence to all staff and students at the University; encouraging spirituality while prompting unity in all matters of faith, offering hospitality and creating community programs.

Daniel believes that, “Hospitality is the essence of the chaplaincy service’s purpose. You are welcome here, you belong here, we are in this together.”

Daniel tells me that Western Sydney University started the soup kitchen program approximately three years ago after a student leader suggested the campuses have food pantries for students to access. The Western Sydney University the webpage says the program launched at Campbelltown and due to its popularity it has since expanded to Hawkesbury, Bankstown, Kingswood, 1PSQ and also at Parramatta North [student residential] village every fortnight.

Daniel also mentions,“When COVID came along a lot of students were very saddened by the need for us to end the program – we decided to go online.” 

This is not the first program of its kind as several famous chefs have been using social media to share cooking classes with their fans. More recently, several small cafes and restaurants have also been participating in similar programs. Research conducted by the Australian Catholic University suggests that online platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, have positive impacts on feelings of connectedness.

Describing the experience, Daniel said,“It connects my kitchen to the kitchen of a whole lot of students and connects us in a way that means everyone is holding up their bowls to the camera to show off what they have made.”

Daniel admits the jump to the virtual kitchen was challenging and that he was a little resistant to the idea. However, he was surprised by how much of a community had been formed online.  Mr. Jantos explains that students from across Western Sydney are participating from Sutherland, Kensington to Campbelltown, and even out at Richmond. He gushes about the program’s support staff, Larissa Baker, Emily Liddell and Cheryl Jendrachowski, who have been working hard to get the groceries to people.

When asked about the challenges faced, Daniel joked about people’s chili tolerance. He tells students not to dump all the chili in and that it is only for those who absolutely love it hot. He says, “A student once dumped all their chili in the soup and said, ‘Whoops, that’s going to be a hot soup.’”

Daniel talks about these weekly events with so much conviction, noting that he feels overwhelmed by the amount of love and gratitude in the online space.  He tells me he feels the program offers students relief from isolation and loneliness and that’s what’s important during these trying times.

If you’re interested in joining the weekly cooking class register here. If you’re not a Western Sydney University Student, you can still watch all the fun on their Instagram wsustudentlife.