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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.