Cooking for a good cause

Photo courtesy of Coast Mental Health

Coast Mental Health will be holding its very first Guest Chef Night fundraising event on Nov. 26 at Social Crust Café, a social venture café. The event will feature a four-course dinner by renowned chef Scott Jaeger of the Pear Tree Restaurant in Burnaby with assistance from the Coast Mental Health Culinary Program students.

The event’s goal is to support youth with mental illness who are interested in gaining culinary training. The funds raised will provide these students with the textbooks and tools they need to be successful in the program.

“An event like this one goes a long way in combating public prejudice and mental health stigma. When the public can come and see the results, and meet some of the students, people will leave with a different impression,” says program coordinator Glen Lamont, who is also responsible for student recruitment and student mental health support.

A café employee, who has graduated the Culinary Program. | Photo courtesy of Coast Mental Health

The Culinary training program is part of a larger organization called Coast Mental Health,” says Lamont.  Davies and her team were inspired to host a guest chef night when they visited a similar organization in Seattle and recently joining that network via membership. Catalyst Kitchens by FareStart in Seattle, like Coast Mental Health,  has transformed thousands of lives hindered by issues such as poverty, homelessness and mental illness through their own culinary training program.

The Vancouver program is still small, but Lamont hopes it will grow faster with awareness raised through events such as the upcoming Guest Chef Night. The program is on its 10th cohort; the cohorts last five months each with 14 to 20 students per cohort.

“I think every year we become more and more successful. Every program we take a step back and see what is working and what’s not. We introduced in-house counselling for our students – that is really helpful. We have grown our team; we have four chefs in the cafe and four in the training side,” says Margaret Davies, culinary program manager and the head training instructor at Coast Mental Health.

The Coast Mental Health Culinary Training Program is mainly targeting youth between 19 and 30 years old with mental issues ranging from depression and anxiety to autism to drug and alcohol addictions. Its goal is to help students better themselves as well as gain important employment skills.

“From what I have seen, cooking pairs really beautifully with mental health. Cooking allows us to teach so many different skills. It helps with confidence; it helps with communication, with time management. And also it is a life skill – everyone needs to know how to cook,” Davies says.

Pilot event with a celebrity chef

Jaeger will be the first local chef to pilot this charity event.

“I think mental health is a topic and an area that affect a lot of industries, and is quite prevalent in our industry. We have a lot of learning to do in this area. I would like to learn more and help others to move forward,” he says.

Jaeger worked all over the world before opening The Pear Tree Restaurant with his wife in late 1997. A member of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the president of The Chef’s Table Society of British Columbia, he has represented Canada as a member of the Canadian National Culinary team multiple times and earned numerous international accolades.

“I love the job; we get to make people happy. We cook for people and we show them a good time,” Jaeger says.

Cooking as therapy

With a strong passion for teaching and for helping people, Davies has been on the job for over four years and feels fortunate that her skills are useful for teaching youth. She believes cooking also helps with building stronger relationships among peers, with family and with the community.

Lamont, who has been working in the mental health field for nearly a decade, concurs.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, food always equals a sense of community and family. People form bonds over food. Also, culinary arts are very creative. Anything creative – art, writing, music – any of those things go hand in hand with good therapy,” he says.

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