As you have likely realized: we are all about community. The Okanagan (and in a biased way, Kelowna) is a treasure trove of incredible experiences and inspiring people and spaces. Sharing what we love about our hometown and encouraging others to explore the west, even if it’s in their own backyard, is important to the food industry, but really important to all our hospitality and tourism cheerleaders. Zen Seekers is a Canadian company that does just that, their mandate is “to inspire, to enlighten, and to tempt you to explore what is there for you to discover.” We were honored to host them recently, which you can read about here. Wet your appetite by watching their fantastic footage of the journey — it’s truly an immersive experience!
CAFE Program: What’s It All About?
For us here at the Start Fresh Project, we are more than just a place to grow and cook food. We are about people, family, and community. Our mission is to inspire others to grow and cook fresh, healthy foods, all while gaining self-confidence and building a stronger community for themselves.Read More
Out on the Start Fresh farm, walking through the rows is always exciting this time of year. The lush green plants remind me why we put so much effort into growing food. And the first time I see the deep red of a ripening tomato in between the vines I still get a little taken back, realizing the reward for all the months of anticipation. (This year we planted well over 200 tomato plants, far above our 50 plants of last year and a new record for the farm!)
Tomatoes are one of those things that you can find a use for all over the kitchen. Mountain Mama’s canning method is a great way to ensure you have access to fresh tomatoes year round, but if you’re anything like me, the freshness of a tomato that has just ripened in the sun is something that is best enjoyed fresh.
I am a huge fan of the classics, and finding ways to use fresh produce in them is something Chefs wait all year for. Since I entered the industry 20 years ago, I have been making the classic Caprese salad. It's as simple as a tomato and mozzarella salad sounds to make, I am going to give you a few tricks that will help transform this fresh summer favourite into the noteworthy Caprese.
The most important thing to remember when creating this dish is something that rings true for all cooking, and something we educate on during every cooking class at Start Fresh. You need to use great ingredients to make great food. Roma tomatoes from the grocery store and mozzarella from a bucket are simply not going to give you the results you’re looking for. So I’ll let you in on a few special places to visit.
Thank you to Purppl who wrote this "looking back" article on Start Fresh. What a year it has been. Have a read!
"It started with a simple idea of hosting monthly cooking classes at the CMHA, and grew from a side step into a full-on journey. The classes were instantly popular. A farm was donated. The classes turned into the Culinary Arts and Farming Education (CAFE) Program, a free program that inspires folks about food while preparing them to rejoin the workforce by gaining education in cooking and farming skill sets. It also includes creating access to long-term, meaningful employment to help them thrive.
The Start Fresh Kitchen was created to help support the non-profit partner society, the Start Fresh Project, which created a unique for-profit / non-profit social enterprise. Michael Buffett and Sarah Martin, co-founders and life partners, began their version of the classic entrepreneurial story. Catering, boutique cooking classes, a restaurant, a non-profit and much more.
Signed life away to get a loan. Close friend and advisor invested in project. Partnership created to secure stable, long-term customers. Worked 80-100 hours per week. Catering, boutique cooking classes, a restaurant, a non-profit and much more. Paid themselves last, or not at all. Laughed. Cried. Loved. Employed 22 people within 12 months.
Overnight success story, right?"
Written By Chef Blake Bjornson
Three o’clock exactly Kevin (the guide that my cousin and I hired) arrives at our hostel to take us around to all the street food vendors in Hanoi. Not five minutes later down a back alley, that I am not sure how we got to, we stopped before a woman with a beautiful array of fruits displayed over a couple concrete stairs. Some of the fruit we easily recognize and some looked like they were from a different planet. Kevin gets us to try his favourite called mangostein, a purple round fruit which once opened has a white flesh inside. When you bite into the white flesh the juice inside bursts this subtle mango-like flavour; definitely worth a try.
Not five minutes later down a back alley, that I am not sure how we got to, we stopped before a woman with a beautiful array of fruits displayed over a couple concrete stairs. Some of the fruit we easily recognize and some looked like they were from a different planet. Kevin gets us to try his favourite called mangostein, a purple round fruit which once opened has a white flesh inside. When you bite into the white flesh the juice inside bursts this subtle mango-like flavour; definitely worth a try.
Next, we continued down the alley until coming up to what looked like a mini cafeteria with white tile walls and stainless steel tables; at the entrance a large case of what we later find out to be fried eel. These are not the large chewy eel you may have tried at a sushi restaurant, these are small fresh water eels that have been fried to become a crispy, flavour filled protein to be served with a salad of glass noodles, herbs, cucumber, and a mix of fried shallots and garlic. This is known as Miên Xào and the crisp eel works very well with the soft noodles and fresh herbs. A very satisfying start to our eating adventure!
After that we go literally two doors down where the name and the only thing on the menu is Bún Bò Nam Bô. Bun meaning rice noodle, Bo meaning beef - a simple salad with served with pickled daikon radish, bean sprouts and healthy topping of crispy shallots and toasted peanuts. Again this was a simple dish but so well balanced, sweet, sour, salt, spice and a mixture of textures. Balance is a theme that Vietnam seems to live by.
We walked those first couple dishes off, crossing busy intersections with motorbikes flying past us; a bonus lesson from Kevin on how to cross the street in Vietnam! The next place has been serving their one dish for about 40 years. As we walk into the tiny room the chef, an older Vietnamese woman, is sitting in front of 8 individual burners that are heated by charcoal. Atop each burner is a frying pan with a bahn xeo frying away. After finding a “chair” (aka a small plastic stool) in the back our table is covered with an assortment of goodies; a large basket of lettuce and herbs I had never scene before; a plate with very thin yet pliable rice paper cut in half; a bowl with a clear liquid and one slice of chili for each of us. This meal requires some assembly but that’s half the fun. Less then a minute later, the crispy rice “pancake” filled with beef and bean sprouts hits the table, now we assemble: rice paper, lettuce and herbs and section of pancake. Roll it up and dip in the beautiful dip and try not waste any. This reminded me of a Vietnamese take on a taco and I loved every minute of it.
After we left there and already starting to feel my stomach fill up, Kevin asks if we have tried a Bánh Mì, to which we reply of course. Then he asks if we want to try the best in the city, a question that no one needs to ask. We arrive to a shop surrounded by locals taking their food to go. We go inside and order a Bánh Mì to split. I watch her make this delightful little sandwich on a baguette that is crisp on the outside but oh so soft on the inside. First a layer of pate, then pork terrine followed by some small diced pork that is topped with fresh cucumber, cilantro and sauce. I very much regretted the Hanoi lager as it took up valuable room in my stomach that could have been filled by many more of those delicious sandwiches.
Leaving there full, but not wanting to let on, we luckily stop for a quick dessert break. A food cart on a busy street corner has a grill piled with what I am dubbing a banana rice dog, which is probably not the most appetizing name, however, the dish finished with coconut milk and toasted peanuts is everything you could want from a dessert, warm banana and cool coconut, sweet and a little salty.
After dessert we are ready for another round of dinner. We start by walking through a local market that caters to the restaurants around the city. We tried two non-descript meat balls which Kevin wouldn’t tell us what they were before we finished them. With the last bite in our mouth he says it’s cat, with both our faces turning white and and not being able to swallow, he replied he was joking it’s only seaworms. Great, much better! But honestly it tasted of dill and you wouldn’t have known it was a patty of tiny seaworms.
Then we moved on to probably one of my favourite dishes in Vietnam, bún cha. This spot with four floors was nearly full. It just so happened to be the place Anthony Bourdain shared a meal with Barrack Obama on their last trip to Vietnam. We ordered the combo Obama: 1 bún cha, 1 seafood spring roll and 1 Hanoi beer. Which happen to be the only three items on the menu anyway. What arrives is a bowl filled with an almost clear liquid, daikon, piled with grilled pork belly and pork meatballs. On the side is a plate of vermicelli noodles and a plate full of lettuce and herbs. To eat this beautiful dish you take the lettuce, herbs and noodles and dip them in the liquid and try and get a little bite of everything at once. The sauce is a perfect balance of sour rice vinegar, fish sauce, chilies and sugar made infinitely better by the charred pork floating in it.
After that, feeling beyond full, we move onto the next spot: a guy on the edge of an alley with a couple tiny plastic chairs and a table. The cook then brings over a plate of snails still in their shells. I am given a skewer and a familiar bowl of sweet sour spicy liquid topped with lemongrass and fresh kefir lime leaves. The snails have a unique texture (i.e. hard and chewy) not my favourite though I was glad to try and just as we are getting ready to leave, a bowl of clams that have been steamed with lemongrass and pineapple is set in front of us. By far the best clams I’ve ever had! The liquid in the bottom of the bowl could have been made into a cocktail and I would have happily finished it.
Next Kevin wanted us try the prawns at a place around the corner. This spot had tanks filled with live crabs, fish and prawns. The prawns were grilled whole over charcoal and was the first seafood in Asia that was cooked completely to death. After peeling and a quick dip in our new favourite liquid, delicious! It was a nice end to the seafood section of the tour.
Finally, our second dessert, which neither of us could finish, consisted of 3 sticky rice balls stuffed with mung bean, coconut and black sesame respectively.
We arrived back at the hostel 6 hours after we started, more full then we have ever been in our lives. An amazing evening where we learned a lot about Vietnamese culture and although we ate a countless amount of food we only just scratched the surface of endless amount of dishes Vietnam has to offer. A challenge I have accepted and since then have found myself walking down back alleys ordering items that I have no idea what they are, and loving every minute of it.
Until next time,
Chef Blake Bjornson
To live in such a vibrant community is a gift. Being chosen as one of the 6 finalists to pitch at ChangeUp along side many other amazing socially enterprises was an honour. And winning Judges Choice and the Crowd Pleaser awards made me speechless... For a few days at least I didn't know what to say. Today I break the silence to say "Thank You" from our team here at Start Fresh.
Thank you to the competitors: Habitat for Humanity (another winner), Change Gamers, Do Some Good (previously Volinspire) , One-Big-Table, and Elevation outdoors. What an amazing showing from businesses for social good.
Thank you to Purppl, Valley First and everyone who helped plan and fund the event. One-Big-Table who catered the event, and all of the people who attended. We are excited to have a six month contract with Purppl: the social enterprise incubator and have some attention do detail with our financial from KPMG.
The Okanagan is a place I've come to love. The people in this community have heart. They want to see everyone treated with dignity and respect, feel like they belong, and have access to meaningful employment and healthy food. That is what we are all about at Start Fresh and it's inspiring to hear everyones stories and the work they are going in the community.
👏 BRAVO KELOWNA 👏
Eighteen months into nonprofit management (and six months into its sister business venture) it goes without saying that we’re learning A LOT.
Yes, there is plenty to consider in the making of non-profit magic — strategic direction, organizational efficiency, budget balancing, community engagement, and of course teaching farming and cooking. But what we’re learning about being successful, feeling successful, and promoting success for others has become a central focus this past year.
It can be easy to believe that success is the same for everyone, and that getting there is a simple straight line if the doors are opened for us. Yet the truth is, helping others requires a great deal of listening and providing support in the ways that support is genuinely needed, not simply in the way that might suit the structure we’ve created. So while we thought we had the answers to every question as leaders of the programming, we found that we have garnered far more — by listening to the stories of our participants and our community — than we ever expected. Success really does appear more often in the small moments, and sometimes the goal simply acts as a great magnet that pulls us forward.
From Board President Michael Buffett, “One of our participants said something that sticks with me on a daily basis. She said that when she started in the program, it was mostly because she needed to find a job. Yet in the process of committing to the program, and coming every week to meet with the Start Fresh team and the other participants, that theProject has become a much bigger part of her recovery. It gave me goosebumps! The Start Fresh Project was started to help people struggling with life get the skills they need to get jobs. It turns out it’s more than that — we really are building a healthier community, in more ways than we realized.”
All Together Now (You Are the ‘We’ in this Next Bit)
Considering that we only started our work in 2016, we have seen massive growth. With the support of federal and provincial funding, we first turned our pop-up cooking education classes into a complete Culinary Arts and Farming Education (CAFE) Training Program and launched in July, which is completely free for people in our community that need it. We have completed a successful farming season on land generously shared with us by Davara Holdings, seeds gifted by the community at Seedy Saturdays throughout the Okanagan, along with three summer students employed through the Government of Canada’s Summer Jobs Program. Through the season we were able to develop and improve the farm thanks to the efforts of an outstanding fundraising soirée at Quails’ Gate Winery (for which we’d like to thank the Stewart family, Winery Chef Roger Sleiman and his great brigade, Top Table Restaurant Group’s Executive Chef Quang Dang from Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, the Okanagan Chefs’ Association, and the many folks who contributed so generously to our auction) and our local Interior Savings, which provided the means to diversify with bee keeping equipment and a chicken coop!
We have been able to provide our program participants with an incredible location to study in each week —the Start Fresh Kitchen — which is a source of consistent and long-term funding for the Project, as the farm’s produce is purchased directly by the Kitchen. Telus Community Grants has provided us the ability to sustainably employ our Program Co-ordinator to continue her work with our participants and strengthen our community partnerships through the winter. The Central Okanagan Foundation stepped forward late in the year and provided essential funding to continue the efforts of our community awareness initiatives and work towards our second program enrolment for Spring 2018. And certainly, our partnerships through Third Space Life Charity and Third Space Coffee have allowed for many beautifully aligned community partnerships to form, and our participants to thrive. Most recently, Trinity Baptist Church has offered to provide support through their annual Christmas fundraising. Special thanks also to seed money.org, Kelowna’s local Acro-Jam Yoga community, and to each and every individual who has donated or supported us along the way, via your mentorship or by attending one of our regularly scheduled dinners at The Kitchen.
It was a Year of True Growth
The donations have gone a long way to building the full year-long curriculum that is the basis for the Start Fresh Project’s CAFE program. They were also used to create our teaching farm where we grew over 1000 lbs of produce, raising over $3,000 for the project. We learned a lot about our land and what it loves to grow, and in 2018 we expect that number to triple. The farm was supported by 16 amazing volunteers throughout the season for an average of 15 hours each, totalling 240 hours of farm work donated. Between the kitchen and farm, we employed 15 people in our food service and farming initiatives. In our community classes we taught 156 people about healthy eating, and enrolled 9 individuals ready to change their lives in our pilot CAFE Program. And here’s a wow - at over 50 dinners at our Kitchen, we hosted 1000 guests, and catered over 100 events feeding 2500 in adjacent office towers and elsewhere.
During the first four months of the CAFE Program, participants receive weekly training on all aspects of cooking and farming, and they are able to build their resume skill-set by providing them with a strong theory-base and practical certifications, including:
FoodSafe, Level I - The gold standard of food service industry accreditationss, covering safe food handling, storage, and rotation practices;
Serving It Right™ - BC’s mandatory course educating food service employees about their legal responsibilities when serving alcohol;
Kelowna Fire Department - Fire Suppression Training, for use in both farm and kitchen safety;
AgSafe BC - on-site farm safety training, providing training on proper equipment use, animal handling, WHMIS awareness, and self-care on the farm.
Five of our participants have successfully completed Level One, and are currently working in hospitality or are in our Level Two training course. Level Two will also provide a full hands-on application of their skills as we begin formal employment through the Kitchen and begin to plant the farm in early spring.
And we are getting really excited about our Second enrolment of participants in May 2018! Through a year of learning during the Pilot Program, we have adapted the program to make it better suited to our participants’ goals and needs.
We’re always telling folks that they can get involved simply by eating good food, and it’s true!
The Start Fresh Kitchen provides funding for our non-profit by purchasing vegetables grown on the farm, by providing instructors and teaching space for our weekly classes, and most importantly, by creating community awareness of what we do.. One of the joys of the past year has been meeting so many socially-consciousfolks at work in our beautiful city. Their example is impressive. So whether you join the Start Fresh Kitchen for a cooking class, host a special event or board meeting in our private dining room, or invite us to cater for you — you really are helping your community.
It is simply incredible for our team to meet the people in our community that reach out every week with ideas of how to involve their school, their place of work, or their family in what we’re up to. So if you have an idea or special way you’d like to help get involved, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to partner with you in all ways possible!
Purppl was kind enough to feature us in their monthly profile: The Start Fresh Project Society is a non-profit that provides access to healthy food, outdoor activities, sustainable farming skills, cooking skills, life skills, and direct connections to meaningful employment through their Culinary Arts and Farm Education (CAFE) Program. The program is geared towards empowering vulnerable community members to make positive changes in their lives through connecting to local food via a farm-to-table approach. READ THE REST HERE
Start Fresh has been chosen as one of the 6 finalists to pitch at ChangeUp 3 on November 2nd at the Kelowna Community Theatre. To be chosen for an event that showcases the best in social entrepreneurship is a real honour. We are inspired by the people we meet in the Okanagan Valley. Please come out and hear the inspiring stories of the local heroes in our community. Each finalist will have 5 minutes up onstage to fast pitch their social enterprise and the audience votes on the winner. Hope to you can join us for the event. Purchase your tickets here:http://okanaganchangemakers.com/...Read More