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Stone Soup Chef an idea too good to be singular event

Thursday, March 18th, 2010 | 6:44 am

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Chef Bernard Casavant (left) and Chef Jesse Croy (right) share a laugh with judge Fred Sarkari at Tuesday's competition. (Photo Marshall Jones)

By Marshall Jones

What started as an idea by two staffers at the Gospel Mission, inspired in part by the Food Network sensation Iron Chef, is building into something special for Kelowna’s homeless and for Kelowna’s culinary community.

Ami Catriona and Eric Frans work day to day operating, marketing and raising funds for the soup kitchen and homeless hostel. Then came one of those cathartic moments talking about an idea surrounding the concept of the Iron Chef TV show—two chefs squaring off in a competition with a hidden theme ingredient.

It’s very much like the daily task facing the Mission’s cooks every day, who must use whatever is dropped off at the door for donations.

“We were sitting having coffee and it was one of those mornings where we were thinking, you know, we have this awesome kitchen… what if we got help making soup? Then ‘what about this and what about this’ and within five minutes we had the whole thing down,” Catriona says.

Frans married it with Aesop’s Fable of the Magic Stone Soup and the idea of the Stone Soup Chef competition was borne. They knew what they wanted to do: pit local chefs against each other, working out of the Gospel Mission’s kitchen, working only with whatever they could find from the donated goods in the kitchen. Great exposure for the Mission and its challenges, publicity for the chefs, a chance to raise money and even educate the community about how to prepare nutritious meals on a budget.

But it had a little trouble getting off the ground. They tried making calls but couldn’t connect with the right people. That all changed when they got Jamie Maw involved. Maw is like the crowned prince of food in B.C and a guy who can get things done. Once he got on board, they soon they had some of the best chefs in Kelowna on board, he helped with the structure and put together an all star lineup with celebrity judges including Terry David Mulligan.

Once the stars—the chefs—got on board, there was no stopping them.

Finalist Bernard Casavant, for one, was a believer from the start, wanting to share his knowledge with the Mission’s cooks, give back to the community and build a full kitchen for the Mission.

“It’s not a complete kitchen by any means. They have the equip for what they are doing here but they definitely need to update the cooler and freezer. Some of the conveniences we have as chefs like heavy duty stainless steel pots will assist them in helping their community. That is why I take great pleasuere in coming out and giving back to the community. We cook from inspiration that comes from the heart, not from a recipe book.

“I always tell young cooks: be an inspired cook and you will be a cook for life. I have been cooking for 35 years and I still get jazzed by it.”

A few months later and the event has exceeded all expectations: Constant media exposure of the competition, of the daily plight in the soup kitchen and a chance for the chefs to show off their talents.

Frans says the events have already made an impact.

“Kelowna has been amazing to us. We’ve never not had food in 30-plus years of being here. We’ve always had something on our shelves and the community has always been there for us,” he says. “That being said, the other day before the end of the day there was a knock at the front door and an eight-year-old girl came up, walked up by herself and (manager) Randy Benson and I were standing there and she puts this bag on the counter and said my Mommy and I heard about the Stone Soup Chef and we want to help.”

She handed them a bag of food including jars of spices.

“It was this childlike gift of ‘this is what I have and want to give what I have,’” he says. “When someone gives something like that from the heart that is a true gift. We asked her what her name was to send her a note to say thank you and she said no that is OK.”

That’s not all. The chefs and restaurants have pressed their suppliers and they are getting more donations, even for the kitchen—large soup paddles, ladels, a donated industrial can opener and soon perhaps a floor mixer.

Stone Soup Chef culminates with a gala event this Saturday at the Delta Grand where chef Bernard Casavant of Wild Apple grill squares off against chef Paul Cecconi of Local Lounge and Grill in a true black box competition. They had to fend off two other chefs on their way to the top, including Casavant who bested Jesse Croy of Summerhill Winery on Tuesday.

The money raised will supply the kitchen with much needed equipment. Perhaps more importantly is the potential and future of the event.

“We already have chefs calling to ask if they could be in next year’s event,” he says.

Marshall@kelowna.com

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