Scattered and isolated by the pandemic, many of us are finding ourselves thinking about family traditions more than ever. We look for stories, heirlooms, old family recipes — anything that will help us feel connected to our families and our culture. But our food media doesn’t always talk about the connective power of home cooking. 

Ivana Strajin, a Rotman graduate and one of The Varsity’s 2011–2012 advertising executives, created a new cooking series, HOMEMADE, which features various home chefs in Toronto cooking their own family recipes in an attempt to highlight the importance of familial culinary traditions.

Her debut as a documentary producer showcases eight home cooks of diverse backgrounds. The recipes are all multigenerational, and each chef tells stories about the dishes as they cook them.

The series has been in the works for a long time and is premiering after a virtual watch party on February 14. “Before my wedding, [in] the summer of 2018… I was kind of thinking about how [I could] keep my culture alive through food,” said Strajin in an interview with The Varsity

Her family’s food has always been very important to her, but she used to rely on older family members to preserve their recipes. Embarking upon this new stage of her life, she felt like she had taken that for granted. “That was when I had the real moment of, okay, I really need to start paying attention… There are so many stories attached with these recipes.” 

She shot the series in the summer of 2019. Since then, it has appeared at film festivals, and this is the first time it will be widely available for public viewing. It comes at a particularly relevant time; because of the pandemic, it’s more difficult than ever to hold on to family traditions. “I think that [the] desire to connect through food is something that… more people can relate to than ever before,” said Strajin.

For Strajin, HOMEMADE is a passion project. She has many important family memories that revolve around home cooking. “[Serbian food] is kind of what I grew up eating… I was born in Serbia, in Belgrade, and we immigrated in the early ’90s. I was pretty young,” said Strajin, “but my parents continued to cook Serbian food.” When she grew up and moved out, cooking Serbian food became an ideal way for her to connect back to those childhood memories and celebrate her family and heritage.

But when she turned to popular food media, she found that it was missing the personal taste that she associated with cooking. “Being in Canada, so many people come from all different kinds of backgrounds, and I didn’t necessarily feel like we got to see too much diversity in Canadian and US food media, specifically… It just felt like there were so many cultures not represented.”

So, for her own series, she made a special effort to celebrate the diversity of Toronto’s culinary roots. For Strajin, one of the best parts about filming was hearing the chefs tell stories about the dishes they were cooking — about the origins of the recipes and their childhoods spent making and eating them — as if they were serving up heartwarming and nostalgic stories alongside their dishes.

Episodes are shot interview-style so that the chefs can relax in their own kitchens, intimately discussing the history that goes into the dishes they’re cooking. The episodes range from six to 11 minutes long and cover recipes that range from cookies to entrées that take four hours to prepare.

Although Strajin encourages home cooks watching the series to try out the recipes at home, she noted that the series was not designed with instruction as its main purpose. “Food, obviously, has a purpose of feeding us to keep us alive… but I do kind of think it is nice to stop for a moment and really treasure… home-cooked recipes that have been passed on for generations — just really treasure [their] origins.”

HOMEMADE will be available for streaming on Dunn Vision as of February 14.