Stoked Palate: Revelstoke chefs cook up community in Covid-19 relief kitchen

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, a collective of local chefs come together to create meals from scratch for distribution through the Revelstoke Food Bank

Names of chefs left to right: Simon Paterson, Big Eddy Pub; Charlotte Sit, Mountain Standard Catering; Heidi Schaffer, Blanket Glacier Chalet; Glen Cherlet, Big Mountain Catering; Calvin, taste tester; Erica German, Monashee Distillery; Austin Luciow, Big Eddy Pub.

This story first appeared in print in the Summer 2020 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. Read the e-edition here:

The Stoked Palate is a regular column by Charlotte Sit that appears in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

My line of work as a backcountry lodge chef has never been predictable, from grocery orders being delayed due to bad weather, questionable kitchen appliances, and the classic “a pine marten stole the ground beef.” But sudden unemployment due to a global pandemic turned out to be the biggest surprise of my career. Shifting from the routine of a winter work season in full swing to a complete shutdown of the tourism industry left myself, along with many others, wondering what was going to happen next.

Meanwhile, already tenuous access to affordable groceries along with an uncertain economic outlook lead to concerns of food security for many others in the community. With the economic effects of the pandemic reaching far and wide, demand at the Revelstoke Food bank increased substantially, and providing vulnerable community members with access to healthy foods gained a new level of urgency.

The Chef Meal Program was created in response to these unique circumstances. Building off an existing network of local chefs, known informally as the Chef-to-Chef Collective, the program was quickly launched into operation through funding from the Columbia Basin Trust and Community Food Centres of Canada. Melissa Hemphill, the Food Security Coordinator at Community Connections, took the lead in getting the program up and running by the start of May.

Portions of family-sized and individual servings of squash and carrot soup. Photo: Charlotte Sit

To date, there have been six chefs involved in the program, who have created over 3,500 portions of high-quality, nutritious meals made from scratch. Along with myself, chefs Austin Luciow, Erica German, Glen Cherlet, Heidi Shaffer, and Simon Paterson are each assigned one day of the week to prepare approximately 100 portions of a meal of their choice, in the community centre kitchen. The meals are then frozen as either individual or family-size portions, and distributed at the food bank as well as through a handful of other programs.

Chefs are free to use their own sense of creativity to prepare meals from their own recipe collection, adjusting their off erings in response to feedback from food bank users. A few of the chefs looked to the concept of “comfort food” as a starting point for their meals, while others chose to draw inspiration from the availability of seasonal ingredients, while adding some global fl avours into the mix. Jalapeño mac ‘n’ cheese, Thai coconut chicken soup, butter chicken curry, roasted vegetable pot pie, mushroom ragu, and minestrone soup are just some of the meals that have been created by the chefs. Freshly made sandwiches, granola, and assorted baked goods have also been added to the program’s menu, for distribution through other community programs in town. The Taco Club restaurant has also contributed meals from their kitchen to help top up the amounts.

Luciow, Co-Chef at the Big Eddy Pub, took the lead in the program’s food sourcing and inventory coordination. Through his connections at the Big Eddy Pub, the program was able to order some ingredients from a wholesale supplier. Doing so allowed more of the budget to be allocatedto sourcing higher quality, specialty ingredients through local businesses and farms, which was a priority for all of the chefs involved.

Homemade granola, banana bread, and frozen soups for pick up at the Revelstoke Community Connections Food Bank. Photo: Charlotte Sit

While much of the cooking is done solo, the chefs communicate regularly to exchange recipe ideas, coordinate inventory, and collaborate on how to implement new ideas to the program. Chef Heidi Schaffer, who cooks at Blanket Glacier Chalet in the winter and travels to different lodges throughout the summer, found the program “opened up doors to communication and support within the Revelstoke community.” Schaffer describes the program as a “gamechanger,” which gave her a unique opportunity to work with chefs from across a range of food industry backgrounds.

The Chef Meal Program is expected to continue throughout the remainder of the summer, pending its funding status and availability of the community kitchen. As businesses are opening up, chefs are also beginning to return to their regular workplaces, and the program will be operating at different capacity. However, all the chefs in the program agree that they are keen to continue fostering connections through the Chef-to-Chef Collective, and see this as just the start of a greater vision to engage with the community through their skills, knowledge, and passion for food.

The Chef Meal Program would like to additionally thank John Ferguson at the Big Eddy Pub, seasonal volunteer Laurent Saulnier, Hannah Whitney from Community Connections, the Revelstoke Community Centre for use of the community kitchen, and Carol and the janitorial staff at the community centre.

Charlotte Sit is a backcountry chef with a boundless enthusiasm for sharing the joy of eating well. She has cooked for hundreds of hungry adventurers at over a dozen backcountry lodges throughout B.C. and Alberta and is the owner of Mountain Standard Catering.