Sunday, 31 May 2015

Giving Back ... Sharing Skills ... Building Community

In Toronto the Assaulted Women's HelpLine has an annual fund-raiser to keep the service going for the thousands of women who, sad to say, still need the help and connections offered. This year Monarch Park Culinary Arts young chefs did the cooking!

Our indomitable Honourary Lifetime member of the Monarch Park Collegiate Culinary Arts Brigade, Ruby Trostin,
retired a few years ago from the HelpLine. She still assists the HelpLine in many ways, and when the suggestion for this year's Gala was that they'd like to consider something new, Ruby spoke up and volunteered her culinary students!

Chef was contacted by Jenn and Huong from the HelpLine, and after a few meetings and a load of email, the ideas were set and the die was cast. This was going to be a stand-up banquet to remember!
The location was to be The Burroughe's Building Event Floor.

It took four days of preparation to bring the whole event together.
This photo shows the military-style planning of who does what when: There is no room for error, no time for excuses. Non parlaro ... lavoro! one of my Italian chefs used to say ... don't talk ... work!

Chef Susan Plummer, a great supporter of our MPC program (and mother of MPC graduates!) came in and organized students and kept Chef's head from exploding at times. She is a dietician and fabulous chef, and the students just love working with her. Thanks, Chef!

And THIS photo shows "The Lamb Line"
... preparation of 200 lambsickles.

We made roux,
we peeled asparagus, we reduced balsamic vinegar, we made coq-au-vin for 200,
we ran our tempers short and finally we ran out of pots and pans and had to clean up! We prepared for 120 people, and on Wednesday of the service week learnt that the expected number had risen to 150. What to do?! Cook more!
Stuff more salmon into the dishwasher! Prepare another 100 lambsickles! Make more tapenade! Fold another 100 spanikopita pillows!

Then ... Friday morning ... the time came (to use the vernacular) to put up or shut up. Time to load everything into Chef's Subaru, (Chef Geraldine supervising!)
fold all the whites for public service work and head down to the Burroughes' Building Event Floor (a gorgeous venue!) and spend 4 hours setting up and getting everything ready. One of our culinary graduates, Chef Kareem Mahfoudh,
joined us to supervise the hot line and be a valuable 'extra pair of hands'. Thank you Chef Kareem!

Before the guests arrived we had to prepare and set out all dishes, cook or finish off all the morrocan lamb to be served on the cheese loonies,
prepare all the lambsickles with dredge and saute then roast every one of them, and Real had to learn how to run and time a blast oven. Chef Real spent the entire event standing guard on the blast oven, cranking out hundreds of excellent servings of spanikopita, lamb, crab torta,
Gorgonzola Mac-And-Cheese and anything else that needed a shot of heat. He coordinated well with Chef Kareem.

Chef Ruann carefully prepared her station.

We forgot to put out the delicious tzatziki for the spanikopita. Darn! It is like finding the cranberries in the frig on December 27th ... still delicious but 2 days late. Rats! Sorry, Jenn & Huong.

Salads were prepared, and the most popular one was a
fig-and-ricotta salad with a dressing made with balsamic reduction.

As this was to be a stand-up banquet, we served things in small portions ... little porcelain spoons of fruit, small bamboo spoons of coq-au-vin, desserts on skewers ... small pillows of spanikopita ... and individual lambsickles and finger-sized slices of a delicious crab and leek torta that is a specialty and favourite of Ruby.

Every young Chef was trained how to serve in a press of people, how to balance a tray on one hand and dish out napkins with the other
everyone practiced a bit and the results went off perfectly! Nothing was dropped and there was no one who got too frightened to try. Good work!

Finally it was showtime ... to work! To work! And there was no time for photos from this old Chef ... the guests started to roll in and we served straight from 5:15 until 9:15, then a discrete pack-up and gently down the stairs. Jenn, from the HelpLine, had made sure that every one of our young chefs received a gift-card to thank them for their efforts, and the host for the evening event thanked them all by name as well.

And the results? The clients speak:

Dear Martin and Ruby,

Thank you so so much for the great experience last night. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing two salt-and-pepper hair people among the group of 15 year-olds, teaching, encouraging and inspiring these young people to take pride in their work and to do their best. You are simply the best people and I am truly blessed to know you.

Martin, you are an inspiration. Your love of culinary shines through. I am in awe with your love of teaching, your commitment to instil hard work, creativity and team spirit in our youth. These young people are very lucky to have you as their teacher and mentor.

Ruby, you are my "Ruby" for almost two decades now. You have been my sounding board, a mentor, an aunt, a dear dear friend and I am so lucky to have you in my life. You and Martin have my deepest gratitude.


And Jenn writes:

Dear Martin and Ruby,

I can only echo Huong's sentiments here as I am truly grateful for your incredible efforts last night.

We have heard resounding comments about the food being wonderful and we are so proud to have had the opportunity to work with you both on this fundraiser event.

This was a very different year making a departure from the traditional, but with both of you at the helm, we knew we were in good hands.

Thank you both for a spectacular event and for a truly unique experience for our guests. What a wonderful way to bring two small (but mighty) groups together to inspire and create change.

With gratitude,


And from Ruby, at nearly midnight:

Hi Martin:

You must be incredibly tired and extremely proud. {I am!}

The programme, you and the students earned the respect of everyone at the
Helpline fundraiser last evening. The kudos just kept coming as people spoke
of the food being offered and the students. Everything was as good as it could
be. Some items went faster than others, some more preferred. But that is
personal taste. Over all it was an amazing success. I hope you get to rest
this weekend. You have more than earned some "time off".

See you Wednesday.



It is the 'see you Wednesday' that left this old chef gobsmacked. Ruby, you're an absolute peach and a winner in every way. Many thanks for making this both possible AND the huge success it became. Huong, as I said in my few words, it is a pleasure to serve and be useful. It was our complete pleasure to serve you and the guests at your AWHL Gala.

To all my Chef students, and particularly Chef Kareem, many, many thanks for a job well done. I take my toque off to you, and hope you have enjoyed a good week-end.

Tomorrow ... dishes! They are piled up to heaven.