Photo credit: Hakan Burcuoglu
Mark Brand is not your average chef. He is also a restaurateur, a recovered addict, he has experienced homelessness, and he is a highly successful social entrepreneur. Mark is determined to change the world and eradicate food insecurity, one person at the time. “I want to be that person that’s there for somebody else when this comes to that place, and I want to build an entire structure that’s ready to help people,” he explains it in a recent Now This interview.
Since winning the Restaurants Canada Leadership Award at RC Show 2018, Mark has been working on a digital platform he’s named Positive Access Link (PAL), intended for people working and living in disadvantaged communities to be able to record their needs in real time. Mark’s commitment to making a difference and helping others is inspiring to just about everyone who crosses his path. His charisma and commitment to bettering the world have led him on some remarkable adventures like cooking at the Vatican as Executive Chef for Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ Challenge, and teaching Innovation at USC, always with the aim of garnering more attention and resources for his cause.
Today his charity, A Better Life Foundation, feeds between 900 and 1,300 people a day thanks to donations received through initiatives like Greasy Spoon Diners, where chefs get together to host a delicious menu and spread the word about the work they are doing. These diners have expanded beyond the original location in Vancouver, and chefs have been helping Mark to develop the initiative in cities such as New York and Toronto. Mark Brand pushes his social activism and engagement further, with 48 per cent of his employees classified as Barrier Employees (people who face barriers to employment like mental illness, addiction, lack of work history, homelessness, and more). Mark stresses that many of his best and longest-running employees hail from this category.
Get to know Mark on a different level through this exclusive interview:
Do you have a lucky charm in the kitchen?
My dog tags. They’re gifts from my Mom and Dad to each other when they first got money. They have one another’s initials on them and you’ll see them on my neck fairly constantly but especially when I need extra power.
What’s the last thing you burned?
A hater 🙂
Your favourite spice?
Am I allowed to say all of them? Of course I am… all of them!
What makes you “kitchen angry”?
Sloppiness and timeliness. Get it right and fast!
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
I roasted squash blossoms stuffed with a mixture of macerated fig, mint, oil and sea salt for some last minute vegan diner. That was tasty.
What’s your most extravagant purchase?
Sneakers, over and over again, sneakers…
Favourite song in the kitchen?
Music is life. At this exact minute, Fight The Power by Public Enemy… elections are tomorrow in the US.
What’s your comfort food?
Japanese everything! I love the execution, the flavours, the high-quality ingredients and the people.
What’s your most essential tool?
If you could change anything in the food industry, what would it be?
Favourite smell in the kitchen?
Stocks. They remind me how important every part of our work is.
What’s your bad habit?
Lack of filters.
What do you admire in other chefs?
Tenacity and humour.
What or who is your greatest inspiration?
Too many to name. But basically, anyone who gets up and fights when it seems impossible.
The dish you are the proudest of?
Everything that comes out of our kitchens daily – 3000 plus dishes a day!
What’s your end of the world menu?
A Nova Scotian summer shellfish boil.
Your favourite advice or quote?
“There are two types of people in the world, those who wait to talk and those who listen.” Boneta Brand
If you are in Toronto, get to meet Mark Brand and support his work at the next Greasy Spoon Diner.
12 of Toronto’s best chefs will be cooking to fight against food insecurity and they need your help to raise funds.
Come share a meal and make a difference – get your tickets here: