“I believe that food is the conduit to love and to show people we deeply care about them and their success.”
These are Chef Mark Brand’s words. He is, perhaps, Canada’s most engaged chef in the fight against poverty using a food-focused approach—at home in British Columbia and inspired programs across the country. You see, Brand has experienced homelessness, food insecurity and addiction himself. He knows what it means to need help. But when we asked him what inspired his journey from then to now; he replies with an air of pragmatism: “I started this journey when my aunt started to teach me to cook when I was 9. My family are incredibly generous … Also, because we’re supposed to. We’re built to help each other!”
Brand has been navigating our industry not only as a chef and a restaurateur but also an ambassador for the people who need food the most and as an example for his peers around the world. His work as a social activist and entrepreneur has made a difference for thousands of people: feeding them, inspiring them, motivating them and giving them a chance at a better life.
“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,” says Brand.
The classic 3 Ps are People, Planet, Profit. Brand came up with his own—Passion, Purpose, Profanity. His mission is “to support local communities enabling upward mobility through employment, training and investing in the future.” And he means it.
Since 2012, Mark Brand Inc. has served over 2 million meals, trained 330 women to source and cook for two to three dollars per meal, educated 355 youth on the importance of food security, hired 48 per cent of his staff of those with traditional employment barriers and 33 per cent are those with developmental disabilities.
Brand has also successfully developed 63 per cent of the new businesses he has incubated. Brands passion for humanity is ever-present and evident. He has been an inspiration to many other chefs who follow him in the quest for a better world. For example, his contemporary Chef Charlotte Langley brought his Greasy Spoon Diner fundraising dinners to Toronto twice in 2018.
Brand received the Restaurants Canada Leadership Award during RC Show 2018—one of many stepping stones for the chef. Since that time, Brand has cooked for the Pope and developed his plans for fighting food insecurity. He has become Professor of Innovation for the University of Southern California’s doctoral program in social work. Never slowing down, Brand joined the team at Alight Fund (formerly the American Refugee Committee) as their executive chef, and he launched A Better Life Foundation (ABLF) in additional Canadian cities. Says Brand, joyfully: “I’ve also made a ton of new friends and allies!”
Running a restaurant wasn’t enough to make the changes Brand envisaged. He has sought one project after another: a brewery, an incubator kitchen, a charitable foundation, training programs, conferences, interviews, events and dinners. “Watching the people we serve succeed through care and belief recharges the batteries over and over. I also have the best team, collaborators and partners on the planet. The work we do is aggressive, often gets politicized and is new,” says Brand, humbly adding, “To do that I have to have a rock solid foundation and I’ve got that and then some.”
So, what’s next? Brand seems thrilled to answer:
“2019 has me ready to unwrap it like a Christmas gift! I’ll be in Uganda working in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement shooting a documentary. We’ll launch ABLF in the US, and I’m currently looking at brick and mortar spaces for a restaurant like Save On in Manhattan, a 25+ city Greasy Spoon Diner tour, and lots more. I’m crazy excited.”