Warning: Reading this material on an empty stomach may make you very hungry.
Ottawa’s culinary community volunteered their time, talents, and oh-so-tasty ingredients to deliver one of the best food-tasting experiences possible at the eighth annual, sold-out Taste For Hope benefit, held Wednesday night at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne.
To top things off, Ideal Roofing joined this year as presenting sponsor.
"The chefs are really the unsung heroes," Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of the Shepherds of Good Hope, told OBJ.social. "They provide their staff, their time, their food. Everything is donated, and it's all to support the work that we do."
The evening raised $89,000 — and counting — from corporate sponsorship, silent and live auction proceeds, and ticket sales for the Shepherds of Good Hope, a non-profit organization that provides food and shelter, clothing and support services to thousands of men and women faced with living on the streets. The total is more than last year's record-breaking $86,000.
Donna Chevrier, chef and owner of Ola Cocina in Vanier, knows what it means to get a helping hand when you most need it. She was ready to throw in the kitchen towel after her business was broken into, burglarized and vandalized last fall. What saved her, financially and emotionally, was the compassionate response from the community. Led by the Vanier BIA, it quickly mobilized itself to raise more than $22,000 to keep Ola Cocina open.
“It put the wind in my sails,” said Chevrier, who had her own George Bailey epiphany upon realizing how many customers care about her little restaurant. “Who would have thought, a white girl with Mexican food in the middle of Vanier.”
Chevrier was joined at Taste for Hope by 17 other chefs, including Dominique Dufour, executive chef and co-owner of Gray Jay on Preston Street. She’s a rising culinary star and part of a talented new batch of chefs from across the country competing in season eight of Top Chef Canada. It begins airing April 13th on Food Network Canada.
She can't spill the beans on how far she made it in the show, or whether she won, but she did share this: “I got to know some of the most talented chefs I’ve ever met in my life. It was very challenging but it was also a great learning experience about yourself, about how you work with others, and about your core values.”
Taste For Hope is as much of a networking opportunity for the participating chefs as it is for the hundreds of attendees. Last year, Jim Foster, co-owner of Pelican Seafood Market & Grill, got acquainted with well-known chef Ben Baird at the fundraiser. He subsequently brought him on board as Pelican's executive chef. They were working the event together this year, along with Foster’s general manager son, Emile Roy-Foster. In a humorous effort to keep up with all the hipster, tattooed chefs in the room, the three guys had their own elaborate body art going, in the form of removable tattoo arm sleeves.
The participating restaurants were: Bar Lupulus, Black Tartan Kitchen, The Bridge Public House, Coconut Lagoon, Delta Hotelsby Marriott, E18hteen, Embassy Hotel & Suites, Andaz Hotel/Feast + Revel, Gray Jay, Grunt, Heart & Crown, National Arts Centre/1 Elgin Restaurant, NH 44, Ola Cocina, Pelican Seafood Market & Grill, Riviera, Thyme & Again and The Westin Ottawa.
Sous vide lamb loin, maple-braised pig’s cheek, a pork belly and scallop combo, yellowfin tuna crudo, and roasted beet tartare were just a few of the dishes creatively and carefully prepared that night by a mix of both up-and-coming and seasoned chefs, with a selection of beverages to wash the food down.
DJ Emily Jones was back to keep the perfect musical vibe going throughout the evening while Ryan Watson from Raising the Bid sold off chefs' dinners, soapstone artwork and a custom-made parka made by Inuit chef Trudy Metcalfe.
Taste For Hope is produced by Robin Duetta.
New to this year’s fundraiser was a VIP reception sponsored by global executive recruitment firm Boyden and hosted by one of its partner, John Caminiti. His practice focuses on the not-for-profit sector. He was, in fact, involved with Freiheit being hired for her top management position at Shepherds of Good Hope, six years ago. “There are few people I know who are as loyally dedicated to an organization and its cause,” he said of Freiheit.
The reception was held in the firm’s nearby office, which overlooks the TD Place Stadium sports field. The yummy bites at the reception were prepared by Bar Lupulus Chef Justin Champagne.
Ian Shabinsky from sponsor Glenview was back to support the cause, joined by his wife, Melissa Shabinsky. She co-chaired last December's successful Grinch Dinner benefit, also involving local chefs, with Gowling WLG partner John Peters. He's been a staunch supporter of the organization for decades now.
Also helping out was Ottawa businesswoman Carole Saad, owner of sponsor LouLou Lounge Furniture Rental.
Sponsors also included Colliers Project Leaders project management firm, which is involved with the SGH’s construction of a brand new 42-unit, apartment-style supportive housing building on Montreal Rd, east of the Aviation Parkway. The place should be ready for occupancy this fall and will mark the organization’s fifth supportive housing residence in Ottawa.
Mayor Jim Watson attended the benefit, as did city councillors Catherine McKenney (Somerset Ward) and Mathieu Fleury (Rideau-Vanier Ward), along with Stéphane Giguère, CEO of Ottawa Community Housing.