When it comes to giving back to the community, a number of chefs are leading the charge. Meet three who are making a difference:
By Lawrence Herzog
When Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver chef Ned Bell climbed onto his bicycle in St. John’s, Newfoundland last Canada Day for a 10-week cross-country peddle, he had more than reaching the west coast in mind. He wanted to raise awareness about where our seafood is coming from and create a movement for change, with a National Sustainable Seafood Day to spotlight the necessity of healthy oceans, lakes and rivers.
“Chefs might not have known better 25 years ago, but we do know better now,” Bell says. “We have seen fisheries collapse, the birth of conservation programs like OceanWise and SeaChoice, and we just cannot continue to take and take without consequence. I feed thousands of people a month, and have a responsibility to make sure I know where the food is coming from, that it’s safe and sustainable, and to educate my customers.”
In his coast-to-coast journey over more than 8,700 kilometres, Bell discovered that most Canadians want to make informed, sensible eating choices. “People are concerned about everything we grow and consume, and chefs are in a unique position to spread the message. It’s vital that we do it now before it’s too late.”
Through his Chefs for Oceans Foundation, Bell is aiming to create a movement which, within the next 10 years, allows Canadians to easily and readily access sustainable seafood. “Our desire for seafood isn’t going to change, so we need to look at land-based closed containment aquaculture as a way to feed a global population,” he says.
Nurturing young chefs
For young men and women just starting out in the kitchen, support and the chance to compete and sharpen skills make a huge difference. Vancouver chef David Hawksworth saw it firsthand during his decade in Europe, and he wanted to bring that approach to Canada. In 2013, he launched the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship Foundation, which annually awards $10,000 and a stage at a top international restaurant to boost the career of a young professional chef.
“The idea is to inspire and nurture talented young chefs from across the country,” he explains. Response from the Canadian culinary community has been enthusiastic, and after just one year the program expanded and in 2014 held regional heats in Calgary and Toronto. “We saw 16 judges come on board and support without hesitation.”
With $10,000 provided by the Chefs’ Table Society of BC and strong support from sponsors including GFS and Freybe, the program is on solid footing. It is expanding again this year, with regional heats in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, followed by finals in Vancouver.
“This is fantastic because by travelling to more cities we are removing more barriers and at the same time raising the calibre of contestant,” Hawksworth says. “By providing an avenue for the best young chefs to gain exposure and experience, the result will be a stronger culinary community. I am excited by the opportunity to create a lasting legacy that showcases young talent and celebrates Canadian cuisine.”
Inspired to be the change
Willy Beaudry is a chef at the Waterfront Restaurant in the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert, B.C. who believes in the power of the difference that one passionate, committed person can make. “I’m just one little guy in one little town, but I can impact the world, and so can others,” he says. Through his work with the Okala Foundation, which is building a medical clinic and schools in Cameroon, he has found the satisfaction that helping people in need can bring.
“As a chef, I see giving back as important, and as I get older, I recognize more need to help where I can. Humans are going to be extinct if we don’t change how we live on this planet, and we cannot wait for government or business to make those changes. We need to lead the change, as individuals, and encourage others to do the same.”
Beaudry, who is also involved with Chefs for Humanity and Prince Rupert’s Hospice Society, leads local fundraising campaigns, like a $100-a-plate event at the hotel this past February. “With this fundraiser, our goal is to get a full-time nurse and a part-time doctor for the clinic in Cameroon, and we’ll save some lives. Our team of chefs and volunteers are all busy people with full-time jobs, but this is important. It doesn’t take much effort to make a difference, and that’s a big part of the satisfaction.”
He cajoles his network and local businesses to donate as well, and has started selecting his suppliers based in part on whether they are willing to help. “There needs to be give as well as take. Those that do their part to make a difference in the community are more likely to get my business.”