Squaring The Circle

I received an interesting comment one day…

A potential guest was touring the property, as a possible venue for a wedding, when one of our suppliers’ delivery trucks was backing up the lane. I was not there personally, but it was passed on to me that they were disappointed to see that we used that supplier (it was one of the major ones, the kind that have their own labelled goods).

The disappointment stemmed from the impression they got from our website that we were using only local producers and farm grown product from our farm. I have read our food ethic, and indeed helped write much of it, it’s right here on this blog. (Look at my first post, Share in Community and Good Food.) Therefore, I can appreciate why it was a little incongruous to see a massive semi-trailer in corporate colors come rolling up.

So, how do I fit the round peg of my high-minded ideals around food and the environment (which I do tend to go on about) into the square hole which just arrived with a blast of air-brakes?

To highlight the initiatives we are taking, to move in a sustainable direction, we have included some phrasing and verbiage around these in our releases, on our website and in our wedding packages. I thought they were worded carefully enough that the concept of us “moving towards” was clear.

Here is an excerpt:

“Cheakamus Centre provides healthy meals made on site from whole ingredients using the absolute minimum of prepared, commercial products, while maximizing the use of seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Using this ethic as our guiding principal we create menus that endeavor to provide the utmost in nutrition while staying inside the restraints of individual budgets and dietary needs. Due to the seasonality of many items, we use the finest products available to us, considering best practices, carbon footprint and nutritional content. Cheakamus Centre’s meals will be the optimal balance of all the above factors to ensure health, enjoyment and affordability.”

Seems clear to me, but then again, I’m the one who wrote it. So, I can speak about the importance of food sustainability, the perils of cheap food, the minefield of the food production chain and still use it myself… What is going on!? No wonder our guest called Foul.

My Mentor once told me that we need to be wary of making statements like “We only cook with the finest ingredients!”

What if your customers cannot afford to pay for the finest ingredients? 

What do say? Go away?

Or do you adjust your offerings?

Offer the very best your customer can afford, treat it with respect and creativity with a meal that is healthy, fresh and delicious. It’s what a chef does, a menu should be flexible enough to accommodate for this, without affecting your brand, ethic or reputation. The point being that there is no problem making those claims but, you may put yourself in an position where you either turn business away, because you are not affordable or closed for the season, or you betray your brand, ethic and reputation.

I work for Cheakamus Centre, which is a social enterprise. An organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being. Cheakamus Centre is owned by the North Vancouver School District and Listel Hospitality Group has been contracted to manage the property on their behalf. Proceeds from rentals and programming help support the environmental and indigenous programs for children and youth.

I run the food service department, among other things, at Cheakamus Centre. I am paid by Listel Hospitality Group but the School District approves the budget etc. School Districts are cost sensitive, so a chef who opens an interview with “I only cook with the finest ingredients!” (which would be a plus for a fine dining establishment), is only going to get people wondering what that is going to cost.

My job is to provide healthy food, while minimizing expenditures.

For example, are you having a wedding and would like all Certified Organic products? I can do that, and the per-person cost of your meal will reflect that, but I need to think differently when feeding school kids.

Locally grown salad @ $18lb or commercial spring mix at a third the price? I’m feeding 100 kids at a time, I simply cannot afford the locally grown stuff, but the kids get salad. Non-organic fresh pineapples and melons in February, or pre-made organic fruit salad? Fresh, hands down, every time.

Bacon? Yep, I use a ton of the stuff so I take the best quality which fits into my food cost percentage, it varies.

Eggs? No way our chickens could ever keep up. I use the pasteurized liquid egg for both safety reasons and labour cost. We put the time in to cook it properly, in a pan, not a bag, and when anyone suggests pre-made heat and serve omelets I just laugh. We do use our chicken’s eggs in baking, so that is a plus.

Pork? I buy it from a supplier, just the boneless shoulders. Roast pork is affordable and popular with the kids.

I do not always decide on side of affordability though, the money I save on things like the pork goes towards things like the free range, GMO and hormone free chicken and turkey delivered fresh twice a week. I got rid of the frozen, 6oz, individually wrapped Kita Salmon portions and replaced them with wild Sockeye caught in Johnston Straight.

As to our farm fresh product mentioned, we will be serving our farm raised pork for some of our special events and fundraisers this year. We will mix in vegetables, legumes, herbs and salad greens from the garden to augment and garnish our meals so we can say that all the meals do contain produce from our farm.

So, to our guest, I am sorry if you felt we were being misleading when you saw that truck roll in, I hope this helps to justify its presence because it will most likely be delivering for some time to come. I do the best I can and make the best choices based on what I can afford. I have a great team, who put a LOT of work into what they do, and provide a great meal in terms of freshness, flavor, nutrition and value.

 I am proud of what we accomplish here every week.

Executive Chef, Wade Rowland

Cheakamus Centre






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