By Charlie Senack
A mom and daughter baking duo from Westboro has raised over $10,000 for organizations in the community, after a personal goal turned into a business during the pandemic.
In March 2020, Margherita Marcone, a lawyer by trade, graduated with a diploma from the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. The Westboro mom decided to put her apron on after finding it difficult to find nut free desserts for her sweet-loving daughter, Julianna.
“Julianna has a nut allergy and her favourite food is croissants and baked goods, and it’s not easy to find that stuff in bakeries,” she said. “I’d always wanted to up my game in recipes to make at home. I grew up in the kitchen and always enjoyed baking, so I took a class at Le Cordon Bleu, then another class, and another class, and next thing you know I got a diploma in pastry.”
Marcone sits on the board of directors at Dovercourt, where she frequently brought the team homemade baked goodies. The executive director suggested Marcone start a business, but that didn’t seem sustainable while raising a family and working full-time.
But as Marcone received her diploma, the world around her was changing: COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, shops were shutting their doors, schools switched to remote learning and people were asked to stay home.
“I found myself with this new skill set that I wanted to share,” Marcone said. “When everything started to shut down, it presented the opportunity to start doing some classes with kids from the community. They would register through Dovercourt and we’d do classes together and raise money for the inclusion program because they do fabulous things for kids all over the city, and for children with special needs.”
A few thousand dollars was raised, and Marcones’s efforts, with her daughter Julianna by her side, didn’t stop there. That’s when their new cooking company “Julianna Banana” was formed. According to the business’ website, they aim “to inspire kids and families to get baking, cooking, and creating in the kitchen all while learning about food, having fun, and gaining an appreciation for the importance of community and giving back.”
Julianna Banana now offers its own classes alongside partnering with other not-for-profit organizations, and has other chefs who came on board to teach classes—many of whom were Marcone’s classmates.
In the past, Julianna Banana also worked closely with the Parkdale Food Centre, putting on cooking classes for the organization that feeds 1,045 households a month.
“They are so progressive and they are so much more than just a food bank,” said Marcone. “The fact that they also do teaching is pretty neat. They are a part of the community, and they are an important part of our neighborhood.”
The Parkdale Food Centre says it’s community-driven initiatives like this which goes a long way for their organization. Higher food costs means they are spending $22,000 a month on groceries, so any donation goes a long way.
“Third-party events, like Julianna Banana’s are special,” said Meredith Kerr, communications and donor relations manager at the Parkdale Food Centre. “They promote a sense of community, advocate for our work while at the same time, they generate financial support — all things we need more of in these challenging times.”
For 10-year-old Julianna, she appreciates giving back to the community where she lives.
“We helped a lot of people at the food bank and helped a lot of people get more food who needed it,” she said. “In the past, for my birthday, my friends gave me food instead of presents, and we donated it to the Parkdale Food Centre.”
With Christmas just around the corner, Julianna Banana is getting into the holiday spirit. They are hosting a class for making macarons on Dec. 12 and for baking yule logs on Dec. 22. Classes are available for those between the ages of five and 14. And that’s just a few of the various classes they are offering over the next few months.
The local food-loving company also sells hand-crafted and personalized culinary boxes, which are becoming a hit this holiday season. They offer families the chance to create festive recipes at home. The boxes include fun kid-tested recipe cards and hands on activities for food science. Many of the products in the boxes are from local vendors, and each box helps fundraise for local charities in the community. This month, they have partnered with the Ottawa Network for Education.
What started as a way to learn a new skill has turned into a local business that gives back to the neighbourhood, all while teaching children how to bake their own goodies. Marcone says she’s starting to reflect on goals for the new year and will keep community at the forefront of everything they do.
“The goal for the next year will be to get more kids in the kitchen and learn while giving back. We hope to add more classes in 2022 with my classmate Terri Lee and other chefs from around the city,” she said. “[We] hope to do some in-person classes as well. For now, we are focused on holiday fundraising through sales of [boxes and classes] with schools and the Ottawa Network for Education school [and] breakfast program.”
To find out more about Julianna Banana and the classes and boxes they offer, visit juliannabanana.ca