Scenes of the love and work put into feeding hungry Yukoners through the Yukon Chef’s Collective. Photos: Mike Irving

Yukon chefs come together to help feed Yukoners in need

A group of Yukon chefs saw a community need in the wake of COVID-19 and have stepped up to fill it in a big way. The Yukon Chef Collective is a group of passionate, local culinary professionals who have come together to give back by creating meals for the Whitehorse Food Bank.

The Yukon Chef Collective was the brainchild of Chef Chris Irving. He explained where the idea came from:

“When I returned to the Yukon from Switzerland in March, I had specific ideas and business plans for the upcoming year. I was in the process of building a brand and online platform for private culinary experiences. I had organized some wilderness tourism opportunities, and had been collaborating with Cat McInroy over the winter on culinary class curriculums, with the intention to return to Well Bread Culinary Centre, where I had taught classes for her the year before. Due to public closure and community isolation, tourism came to a halt and all academics were cancelled. Cat generously allowed me to occupy her commercial facility, since all classes had been postponed for the foreseeable future. I had to shift and adapt, and subsequently decided to launch a business of a chef crafted, meal delivery service, catered towards the professional medical industry, and any other essential worker who may have been isolated and unable to eat well during that time due to lack of options and accessibility.” 

He added, “I knew the situation in our community was dire, and having worked with the Whitehorse Food Bank in the past, I decided to start there; using my available time and effort to cook meals for those in need. As a proud Yukoner who went through recent hardship, I was shown love and support by my community. I personally pledged to raise a minimum of $5000 on GoFundMe, to pay for, personally cook and distribute 1000 simple meals with the “pay it forward” mantra, to give back to those who helped me in my time of need. The continued support and donations easily exceeded my hopes and expectations, and took me beyond my personal threshold! There was an extraordinary amount of support from my local culinary peers who wanted to help out and give back, but at that time physical distancing was very real and prevalent. 

“Withholding compliance to our strict health measures, I couldn’t responsibly invite anyone else into my commercial facility to help. With some brainstorming, I decided to use my previous international experiences of gathering chefs for culinary collaborations, and create a collective specifically to cook these meals. The Yukon Chef Collective grew into an organic, charitable group, allowing for the workload to be spread amongst more than just myself.”

Initially, Irving was distributing funds to cover costs to other chefs, and they were each preparing components of the meals in their own respective commercial kitchens, then bringing them together to deliver to the Food Bank. That model involved a lot of transport, and they were finding their efforts were just not as efficient as they could be, so Irving engaged some professional help and advice from a medical professional. 

“After inspection and hazard risk assessment from a local community nurse, we were deemed to be low risk and were given the green light to work under one roof,” said Irving, “This made everything so much more efficient and streamlined. Having already committed to renting the Well Bread kitchen for my own personal business venture, it just seemed appropriate to use it as the place of production for the Collective.”

Irving described the Yukon Chef Collective as an inclusive group for any chef, restaurateur or food service professional who wishes to contribute. 

The Yukon Chef Collective’s current active membership is: Chris Irving (Chef Chris Irving), Brian Ng (Wayfarer Oyster House), Luke Legault (The Wandering Bison), Michael Roberts (Landed Bakehouse), Ray Magnuson and Steve Clapp (Smoke & Sow). 

They have had several other businesses offer support, primarily Tyler Doll and GP Distributing through donations, and the use of his cold storage and logistics and Riverside Grocery for their generous donations of groceries. Other notable community mentions include Yukon Built, Chris St. Amand, AJAX and Craig Hougen for their generous financial contributions. YBAR Meats, Hummingbird Mobile Health, G&P Restaurant, Blackbird Bakery, Gray Ridge Lodge and Pizza Hut have all contributed time, donations and efforts.

Irving described the feedback from the Food Bank as fantastic. 

“I have been told there are a lot of smiles from the recipients of our meals, which is truly rewarding and soul-filling,” he explained. “Things are rolling smoothly and efficiently, and we all share a common camaraderie with the ability to offer this service. We have fun, don’t take ourselves too seriously and share our individual expression; subsequently bringing us closer as culinary peers and friends, ultimately allowing us to stay a focussed, busy and creative task force. Something I think many people are unfortunately lacking in our current global climate.” 

Every week the Yukon Chef Collective has dropped approximately 280 fresh made meals to the food bank, reaching nearly 2000 meals so far. They have also sent baked goods to the nursing stations throughout the communities to show their acknowledgement and gratitude to those in remote areas. 

“I chose GoFundMe, and started the page as I felt it would be the easiest, most transparent way to facilitate the plan, and an easily navigable destination to direct those wanting to support our initiative,” said Irving, “With overwhelming generosity, and individuals reaching out offering financial donations towards the initiative I raised the goal to $10,000. Easily meeting that mark again in a short amount of time, I upped the goal once again to $20k.”

“We have taken the necessary steps, and have officially registered as an NPO (non-profit organization),” explained Irving, “We feel the legitimization will allow for further growth and future government funding. The next official steps will include a specific Yukon Chef Collective website that will collect the donations to a designated bank account, avoiding the service charges that apply by third-party collection sites like GoFundMe, and allow us to facilitate 100% of the donations.”  

He adds, “I am currently working directly with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, in association with the Food Bank Society of Whitehorse and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Yukon. The big news is that the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has put in request for weekly funding of our meals! This means that Yukon Chef Collective will not only rely on charitable donations to help feed the community. A goal and destination that we had hoped for upon conception. The ultimate goal would be to receive federal funding to build a commercial production kitchen, to facilitate our operations and allow the production and distribution of meals to all those in need throughout our territory!”

If you would like to donate towards the Yukon Chef Collective’s efforts you can do so at: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/meals-for-whitehorse 

A pearl formed in these oysters