Philanthropy in Ottawa: Chef cooks with kindness during a crisis

Chef Joe Thottungal
Chef Joe Thottungal is the owner of Thali and Coconut Lagoon. (Photo by Mark Holleron)
Editor's Note

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Who: Chef Joe Thottungal, owner, Thali and Coconut Lagoon 

The donation: More than $55,000 from donors and vendors  

The recipients: Vulnerable Ottawa residents     

The inspiration: “I measure success on how I support my neighbour and fill someone’s heart with a meal. When we care about other people it makes us a richer person.” – Chef Joe Thottungal.

As COVID-19 started to wreak havoc around the world, Joe Thottungal – a national award-winning, brilliant and humble Ottawa-based chef – was in India for a culinary tour.

Thottungal quickly rushed home to Ottawa to his loving family, dedicated staff and beloved restaurants.

The owner of Thali and Coconut Lagoon knew the pandemic would create hardships for many people, including his staff who would be without work and many vulnerable residents who would go hungry.

Sitting back was not an option for Thottungal. He quickly turned to what he knew best and started to cook.

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Thottungal transformed the kitchen at Thali to cook food for the most vulnerable people in the city by collaborating with several other talented chefs who donated their time. Thottungal knew that bringing together the likes of Kent Van Dyk, Jishnu Sreenivasan, Scot Cunningham and many other volunteer chefs would be a recipe of kindness for the people of Ottawa.

Their collective culinary efforts resulted in more than 70,000 meals for people who are homeless, families living in hotels and individuals who simply cannot make ends meet during the crisis. Generous donors and vendors gave more than $55,000 in food and supplies. 

“I did not come from the best situation. I know first-hand how difficult it can be for people,” Thottungal says. “People can fall through the cracks and our goal was to ensure everyone who wanted a meal received one. No questions asked.”

“Whether the people needing the food were newcomers to Canada or they were fleeing domestic violence or just down on their luck, eating a good meal is a right,” he adds. 

At the height of the pandemic, tragedy struck Thottungal’s restaurant at the corner of St. Laurent Boulevard and McArthur Avenue. A fire raged through the popular gathering place on May 22, severely damaging the building.

But the setback did not deter the chef from his work feeding people. In fact, he was more determined than ever to help his community. 

Thottungal is being recognized for his generosity, inspiration and community spirit this year by being named the recipient of the Ottawa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals' Individual Philanthropist Award after being nominated by Sylvain de Margerie of Food for Thought net-café.

Philanthropy in Ottawa is a monthly feature highlighting notable donations in Ottawa. Share your stories of philanthropy in our community with news@obj.ca. And be sure to read the latest edition of OBJ’s Giving Guide: