• aside

Cooking from Coast to Coast

From her family’s kitchen in Vancouver to Chopped Canada Teen in Toronto to Ronald McDonald House in Halifax, 18-year-old Justine Balin has taken her culinary talents from coast to coast.

An early bloomer in the kitchen, Justine started cooking when she was just two years old.

“There are old pictures and videos of me from when I was really young standing next to the stove helping my mom. I was always in the kitchen and I just never left,” remembers Justine. “My mom is a good cook, my grandmother is a good cook – you could definitely say it runs in my family!”

So when Justine’s cooking teacher got an email last year that the popular television show Chopped Canada Teen was looking for competitors, she encouraged her to apply. After applying online, she got a phone interview right away, followed by an in person screen test weeks later in Vancouver.

“The next thing I knew they were flying me and my mom out to Toronto for a weekend to film the show,” remembers Justine. “It was really cool and actually filming the show was amazing. It was super top secret.”

The reality show takes place over three elimination rounds where four contestants are tasked with preparing a gourmet appetizer, main and dessert from a mystery basket stocked with an array of ingredients. Each must be cooked and plated within 30 minutes.

Even harder to conceal was the fact that Justine was the winner of Chopped Canada Teen and the $10,000 prize! She had to wait six months to tell anyone that she was on the show.

So what is it that Justine loves so much about cooking?

“Everyone loves food and everyone has to eat,” says Justine. “Cooking really does bring people together.”

And that’s exactly what Justine has been doing at Ronald McDonald House. She came to Halifax in September for her first semester at Dalhousie University and started volunteering at the House a month later. She had also volunteered at Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver.

Now, every Wednesday you can find her in our kitchen preparing a meal for families.

“The House here is so much like a home and I love being around kids,” says Justine who cooks with the help of her friend from university. “We always encourage families to come help us, whether we have a cooking class, make dinner or a combination of both.”

She says that her weekly visits to the House also provide that little slice of home she is missing while living in residence, including a kitchen where she can cook.

“The kitchen is my happy place,” she says. And we are so thankful to Justine for spreading that happiness at our House.