Thursday, 15 November 2012

Invitation to the Chef's Table

"When you pass a homeless person, have you ever wondered what happened to them? What series of events unfolded to push them out on the street? We hear hundreds of reasons why people end up on the street and "I choose to" has never been one of them."

The Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre works to provide solutions to homelessness every day. In fact today, "The DI" provided 3000 meals to those in need who are working to rebuild their lives.

Seven kilometres distant, people attending an event at the Westin Calgary enjoy the luxury of a meticulously prepared banquet in the Grand Ballroom. With its polished silver, well-suited servers and decorated tables, it appears to be a world apart from the realities of The DI. Yet people at both locations sit down at the same Chef's Table, united by a unique local partnership that since January 2012 has shared 7300 high quality, nutritious meals with Calgary's most in need.

Didier Luneau, General Manager at the Westin Calgary, is the driving force behind the program which collects and redistributes meals to local shelters. I first learnt of Didier's work through Sandra Wood, Annual Meeting Manager at the Canadian Medical Association. She and Didier are looking for a few good hotels in Western Canada to help grow the effort in both Calgary and Vancouver.

"Every year 150,000 people use a food bank in Calgary, and visits are rising since the recession. This program provides a dependable and safe way to get food to those who need it." ~ Didier Luneau
Prior to joining the team in Calgary, Luneau participated in La Tablée des Chefs in Montreal, which is also contributing to facilitate new partnerships in the West. The program furnishes containers and delivery services to hotels that have left-over food who would like to donate it to charities within their city.

The premise is simple: Hotels and restaurants prepare a profile online and commit to a schedule of food pick-ups throughout the year. Chef's Table agents deliver the containers, food labels, training and promotional materials to the chefs. The local food shelter creates their profile and is linked with the chef, after which quality food is picked up and redistributed according to the agreed to schedule. Each pick-up costs $50, including all materials.

Luneau describes how the program helps address a difficult food waste issue for the property: "To ensure happy guests at an event we typically prepare 3-5% more food than we need. This program ensures when we don't serve that overage that high quality, nutritious food is redistributed. It also provides a measurable benefit to our planner clients, who are often concerned about reducing food waste."

Paul Hastie, Manager, Occupational Health And Safety/Food Services at The DI comments on how the Centre has benefited from the program: “As a non-profit agency we rely a great deal on donations. This is especially true in our kitchen. The Westin provides us with excellent, quality food on a weekly basis that we can use for a variety of meal options."

But what about the push back that donating food is unsafe? "The 'cold chain' food-safe handling technique is always maintained to ensure food remains at a safe temperature," Hastie replies. Luneau also cites provincial law that protects hotels and restaurants from donating food in good faith.

"It takes very little time for our staff to set aside and refrigerate food that hasn't left the kitchen once they're trained in proper procedures. And they're happy to do it; it makes them feel good. Furthermore the convenience of the equipment and scheduled delivery makes it easy. The most common push-back we hear is lack of storage space, but most properties can work to determine a delivery schedule that overcomes this, perhaps opting for twice weekly pick-ups instead of one."

Now that the program has been piloted by the Westin Calgary, the next step is bringing more hotels and restaurants on board to make it self-sufficient. 40 participants would help to shift the program to a financially sustainable model.

This is where planners like Sandra Wood, myself and yourself come in.

"Planners are very receptive when we tell them we're doing this. What we need is more planners to ask their hotels and venues if they are participating in food donation. And if they're not, ask them to consider Chef's Table as a solution," Didier states. "Signing up 40 members within the next year would be fantastic, and we need help to do that."

Luneau's team at the Westin Calgary is available to provide advice and information on participating in the program in Calgary (please leave a comment if you'd like to be put in touch with Didier). Properties in Vancouver are welcome to contact Jean Francois Archambault, Catherine Bagdian and Nathalie Pomerleau at the Montreal program.

So, Vancouver and Calgary: faced with a ready-made opportunity to help those who may not have a choice themselves, what choice will you make?

Photo: Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre


Christine Young said...

This is indeed an excellent way to help the unfortunate members of society as well as reduce the waste that may otherwise be sent to the landfill. Do the hotels calculate the amount of waste that is diverted via this program?

Shawna McKinley said...

Hi Christine,
Thanks for your comment and question. I'm not sure of the specific process with this property (am sure they would welcome your question if you wanted to get in touch). I find most do capture a metric about how much is diverted through programs like this, though. Many will measure the kilograms diverted, and also the financial impact reducing food waste through donation (and composting) can make on the cost to haul waste from the property. Cheers :)