Ottawa chefs, business community raise $50K-plus at Grinch Dinner for Shepherds of Good Hope

Nine area chefs donate time and food for benefit dinner to help provide 42,000 meals for homeless this winter

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Even those living with a resting Grinch face could not have resisted breaking into smiles and laughter at a benefit dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday in support of the Shepherds of Good Hope.

A small and intimate crowd of nearly 50 was culled together by Gowlings WLG's new litigation partner, John Peters, and Melissa Shabinsky, a partner at RAW Pulp + Grind, for a fun and intimate evening, away from the dark and cold, and shared with close friends.

Together, the room raised a net total of more than $50,000. That money will be used to cover costs at the Shepherds of Good Hope (SGH) for providing more than 42,000 meals to the homeless and downtrodden during this upcoming winter.

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From left, John Peters co-hosted the Grinch Dinner with Melissa Shabinsky, with support from her husband, Ian Shabinsky (Glenview Management/Ottawa Athletic Centre), at Thali Restaurant in downtown Ottawa, in aid of the Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The Grinch Dinner is named after the classic children's story How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss, who criticizes the commercialization of the holiday season. 

Attendees paid $1,500 per couple (receiving a tax receipt for $1,150, in return) to enjoy a dinner prepared by nine area chefs, all of whom donated their time and food to present a phenomenal feast. No exaggeration: it would have wooed every Who’s Who in Whoville.

The venue, Thali, is a downtown lunch spot at 136 O’Connor St. run by award-winning chef Joe Thottungal. He also owns Coconut Lagoon in the east end.

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From left, chefs Robert Bourassa, Joe Thottungal (Coconut Lagoon, Thali), Ben Baird (Pelican Seafood Market & Grill, Yannick La Salle (Les Fougères), Jason McLelland (Grunt), Dominique Dufour (Gray Jay), David Godsoe (e18teen), and Stephen La Salle (Andaz Hotel's Feast + Revel). Missing is chef Michael Radford (Whalesbone). Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Chef Joe Thottungal plates his soup with assistance from chef Stephen La Salle at Thali restaurant in downtown Ottawa, at the Grinch Dinner held in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Some 48 guests dined at Thali restaurant in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, as part of the Grinch Dinner for the Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips

This year marked the sixth year the benefit dinner has been held for the SGH. The organization, through its staff and hundreds of volunteers, serves more than 700 meals to more than 300 people every day, and puts a roof over the heads of nearly 2,300 homeless men and women each year. 

The non-profit organization also provides supportive housing and long-term homes, stretching from the downtown core to Kanata. Next year, it will open a new 42-unit supportive housing facility on Montreal Road.

The Grinch Dinner evolved from an annual holiday house party hosted by Peters and his friend Paul Turner, the latter of whom came up with the idea to hold a separate, high-end fundraising dinner, charging dinner guests "outrageous amounts of money" in order to raise big bucks for charity. 

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From left, John Peters with well-respected chef Robert Bourassa and Paul Turner at Thali restaurant in downtown Ottawa, at the Grinch Dinner held in support of Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Melissa Shabinsky, co-host of the Grinch Dinner, with her close friend Mary Taggart, publisher and editor-in-chief of Ottawa At Home magazine. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Peters has been involved with the SGH for a remarkable 26 years now and is former board chair of its foundation. Shabinsky's volunteer efforts are more recent but she’s used her connections to raise awareness over the good work the Shepherds of Good Hope is doing to help a vulnerable population. She's organized tours of the facilities and helped with the collection of gifts to distribute to women living in shelters over the holidays. She recruited new guests to this year's dinner, including Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein, Tomlinson Group of Companies CEO Ron Tomlinson, Bassi Construction president John Bassi, and Monica Singhal, Kevin Yemm and Angela Singhal from Richcraft Homes, which has been a long-time, low-key supporter of Shepherds of Good Hope.  

Peters, Shabinsky and her husband, Ian Shabsinky, principal and vice president at Glenview Management and president of the Ottawa Athletic Club, covered the extra expenses involved with the event, such as the cost of the wine. The pairings were done by Patrick May from Stem Wine Group while staff from the Shepherds helped out as servers and the flowers were courtesy of Flowers Talk Tivoli in Westboro. 

Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of the Shepherds of Good Hope, always attends, and always pays for her own ticket. Also there was the head of the SGH board, Margaret Tansey, a former chief nursing executive at the Royal Ottawa, and the head of the SGH Foundation board, lawyer Ryan Kilger from Vincent Dagenais Gibson. The money raised that night came from ticket sales and from a late-night call out for donations, resulting in another $17,000. It was initiated by Turner, president of Jaimac Risk Management. 

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From left, Jeff Smith, president of Smith & Reid Insurance Brokers Ltd., with his wife, Angela Singhal, Kevin Yemm and his wife, Monica Singhal, from Richcraft Homes, at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ron Tomlinson, CEO of Tomlinson Group of Companies, with his wife, Amy Tomlinson, at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, with his wife, Lindsay Taub, at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Bassi Construction president John Bassi with his wife, Maria, and Susan Margles, chief people and safety officer at Canada Post, with her husband, Dr. Michael Rapp, at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Key organizers of the Grinch Dinner were Robin Duetta and retired chef Robert Bourassa, of former Café Henry Burger. In its day, the high-end eatery in Gatineau was frequented by celebrities, athletes, politicians and dignitaries. Yet, homeless folks ended up at Bourassa’s restaurant, too, looking for food or for a job at his restaurant. Over the years, he was able to help some individuals turn their lives around.

"We have long had a desire to help out our community, to really be a part of the community, and to give back," Bourassa told OBJ.social.  "We all feel very fortunate that we’re able to do what we want to do, and we do it with a lot of passion." 

The chefs were seen hustling in the kitchen throughout the night, enjoying one another's company and helping each other out. "There was no arm-twisting, whatsoever," said Bourassa of the chefs' eagerness to be involved. "They love to do it.”

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A behind-the-scenes peek in the kitchen reveals chef Dominique Dufour from Gray Jay and her culinary colleagues hard at work during the Grinch Dinner, held at Thali restaurant in support of the Shepherds of Good Hope. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of the Shepherds of Good Hope, and organizer Robin Duetta caught the Grinch in a good mood at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant. Photo by Caroline Phillips

During the cocktail reception, chef Stephen La Salle of Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market Hotel’s Feast + Revel was in charge of canapés while Chef Michael Radford of Whalesbone served oysters. There were also cocktails served by Top Shelf Distillers.

Chef Yannick La Salle from Les Fougères Restaurant in Chelsea, Que. prepared the yummy appetizer: a Waldorf-style salad. It was hard not to wolf down Thottungal’s roasted butternut squash soup. A seared sea scallop never tasted better, thanks to chef Ben Baird of Pelican Seafood Market & Grill. Bourassa took care of the palate cleanser. The sous vide pork tenderloin from chef Jason McLelland, of Grunt at 173 Hinchey St. in Mechanicsville, was a hit. So was the next course, featuring red deer shoulder, from chef Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay at 300 Preston St. For dessert, chef David Godsoe from e18teen ended the meal on a delicious note with his pawpaw and white chocolate tart with pistachio cake.

Each guest was given a copy of Thottungal’s Coconut Lagoon recipe book, along with a copy of Jesse Thistle’s best-selling memoir, From the Ashes. It details how he's overcome personal trauma, homelessness and addiction to become a published author and rising Indigenous scholar. He personally signed his copies with: Dear Reader, We must have courage to change.

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Greg McEvoy (Cohen Hamilton Steger & Co.) with his wife, Patricia, at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 201 in support of the Shepherds of Good Hope.. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Gary Zed (Treehouse Family Advisory/KPMG) with Liza Mrak (Mark Motors Group of Ottawa), Leigh Harris (EY) and Jeff Hill (BMO Nesbitt Burns) at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Tim Hortons franchisee Anil Mital with his wife, Monica, at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation board member Kaveh Rikhtegar with Margaret Tansey, foundation board members Angèle Mènard and Ryan Kilger (chair) at the Grinch Dinner. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Krista Kealey (Ottawa International Airport Authority) with her husband, Keith Henry (Tops Car Wash), with Korey Kealey and Liam Kealey (RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Group) at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Sara Ainslie, from Top Shelf Distillers, and Dylan Boomer shake up some cocktails at the Grinch Dinner held at Thali restaurant on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca