These days, simple acts of kindness and compassion are more powerful than ever. That’s because in complex times, it’s important to get back to basics. As a core part of Canada’s food supply chain, egg farmers coast-to-coast have always been about the basics. Whether it’s helping neighbours, supporting the local community or providing a warm meal; back to basics means having each other’s back. And it’s worth recognizing.
Hailing from Halifax, chef Craig Flinn is the renowned owner of 2 Doors Down and his local community’s biggest supporter. Flinn’s culinary creations, charity work, and fundraising has earned him the love of all the Canadians he’s helped. Though deserving of kudos, chef Craig would rather share the spotlight, and chose to nominate another local culinary hero: Renée Lavallée. Mother, chef and restaurateur, Renée has proven what the hospitality industry is really all about.
Renée, we’ve both been part of the Nova Scotian culinary community for quite some time. When did your culinary journey begin?
I’ve been a chef for over 25 years, graduating from George Brown culinary school in the early 90’s and have worked throughout the world. I have apprenticed in Italy, worked on a private island in the British Virgin Islands, and for the past 15 years have been proud to call Nova Scotia home. I now own and operate The Canteen and Little C in Dartmouth with my husband, Doug.
I remember when we met at Chives many years ago. Seems like yesterday in so many ways.
Me too! Way back in 2004. Nova Scotia has such a tight-knit community of chefs and many of us are more than acquaintances – we’ve become true friends who can depend on each other. When I went into labour with my son, you stepped up and catered an event I was scheduled to manage myself. Likewise, when you had that knee injury a few years later, I was happy to step in for you. The whole food industry is like that though, we look out for one another.
You’ve always had a big heart. You find ways to give, and in this past year even more than most.
When COVID restrictions began and we had to close down our restaurant, my husband Doug and I became inspired to use our restaurant to help others. We began producing meals for The North Grove, a local food centre, for them to distribute to the community. We’ve provided over 13,000 meals at “Canteen Community Kitchen” because we all need a little help sometimes.
One thing so many chefs have focused on in recent years is knowing that we’re using fresh, local, high-quality ingredients. What does maintaining the strength of Canada’s food system mean to you?
Our food system is extremely important; it’s a beautiful, interconnected chain. Farmers, suppliers, transporters, restaurant workers and customers, all Canadians play a role in this system. It takes all of us to make it work.
I know that the relationships you have with your suppliers are as important to you as they are to me. What does it mean to you and your respective community to support locally produced food?
I love the fact that in Nova Scotia, we have many local markets. I know all my suppliers and I get to interact with them on a weekly basis. The North Grove has an amazing garden where they grow their own produce, use a local butcher for their meat, and work with many local farmers too. I think the more we can support local, the better it is for everyone.
How do you think Canadians can help champion local foods and highlight the incredible offerings from our culinary community?
I think Canadians need to be very vocal about it. Whether it’s posting recipes, to recognizing local food producers, to educating our restaurant guests. I encourage our culinary community to step away from their kitchens to help educate their communities, by teaching, listening, and being there to show support and compassion.
As chefs, we often have access to great ingredients, but not everyone has the same opportunities. How important is it to have consistent access to fresh food?
It’s so important. Everyone should have access to healthy, fresh, local food. It’s why organizations like The North Grove are so important, and why we’ve worked with them since they opened.
Speaking of recognition, what stories have you heard over the past year from the culinary or local community that are worth celebrating?
In such a challenging year, it was remarkable to see so many chefs and restaurateurs turn to support their communities. Our industry has arguably been amongst the hardest hit, and yet so many have continued their dedication to feeding their communities, often at their own cost. From Chris Brown in Toronto, to Ben Kramer in Winnipeg, these chefs have stepped up for their respective communities to help out. It’s incredibly inspiring to see the work they are doing.
Resilience and community are the bricks and mortar of Canada’s culinary community, and while our brick and mortars may have changed for the time being, our foundation has not.