CHEF, SOCIAL WORKER, CONNECTOR
Before she was Chef Pam, she was Social Worker Pam. But the way she sees it, Pam is still building community and facilitating conversations, only now it’s over a shared dinner table. Pam generously shared her intimate thoughts on destiny, catering with compassion, and the importance of connecting to each other and where you live.
You chose Erin? Erin chose you?
I would drive from Guelph, and I just always felt this tranquility when I would come on the main street in Erin, and turn right and go down through Belfountain. It was a perfect way to start the day and I knew I wanted to live here… but at the time I was in my late 20’s, and I had a young daughter on my own… so I ended up pursuing my social work career and moving to Oakville.
But when I was ready to purchase my next house, out here was always unequivocally where I wanted to be, and within a month I found the place I wanted. For me to have my home and my business here seven minutes away, and to be able to firmly root myself in the community in a different way than I could when I worked in Toronto, is amazing.
How you buy food is also rooted in the community.
I have a couple of great CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture, farmers that offer weekly freshly picked farm-raised food boxes to members) that I’ve teamed up with. such as Everdale farms. I get as much produce as them as I can for my cooking and my store. Kathy Hanson of Fernway Farms, it’s great working with her because she’ll come at the beginning of the season and she’ll say, okay, what are you putting on your menu this year, what do you want?
Tell me how the Friendly Chef came to life.
I knew that my passion for the culinary work was enough that I wanted to leave my social work career and do it for a living. So I went to France for four months and worked in a fine dining restaurant, and learned all I could about that. I’m classically French trained as a George Brown student. I was trying to figure out where I was going to land for my business. I had put in offers on a space and it hadn’t worked out, and one day it was just bugging me, and normally things don’t bug me.
And then, it started bugging me that it was bugging me. I said, Let it go Pam, it’s not meant to be, you’ll land somewhere you’re supposed to be. And I pulled the car over because I was so shaken up, and I looked up and saw the words “kitchen and catering” in a store window, and I said, what? Someone’s already opened a careering business in town here? Darn, I wasn’t quick enough. And saw that it was a “What’s Cooking” store, and it dawned on me: she has a stove in there, she has a hood in there… but I’d never thought about doing a retail store. And a few hours later… we had a deal in principle, for me to buy her store.
So two women who were thinking “what do I do now?” got together…
That’s a good way to put it actually. I spent time with her, Jo, finding out what it was like in the business, seeing what worked, what could I make my own, and I started out on January 1st, 2014. And since then we’ve done a lot of things to bring my own flair into what was already excellent and existing.
For example, we put a 14-seat restaurant in throughout the store. It’s like a community gathering spot. I wanted the store to reflect how I feel when i come into this area, which is… connected. To who I am, to nature, to the town, to each other. One of the lovely things I hear a lot, is that people feel like there’s an openness and an automatic connection when they walk in, whether it’s with me or the other me or to the staff.
My sort of tagline on my business, that really runs through all I do, is “eat well with friends.” Whether you’re eating lunch, or doing one of my cooking classes, or coming on a culinary tour, why do people keep coming back, what draws new people? It’s the eat well with friends. It’s the community, the collaboration.
Well, there’s nothing more social than food… and you are a social worker.
Everything I’ve done up to now feeds into the the Friendly Chef adventures. I’m a social worker that facilitates conversations and experience during the class. I took it for granted at the beginning because it’s who I am, being a social worker, it’s part of who you are, and I have the benefit of having that incurred in me as a chef.
I have something new I’m doing called compassionate catering. When someone has a funeral that they need catering for, for example, my staff and I have a sensitivity and a nuance to families, the interactions. My staff work with me to know how and when to go up to someone at at time like that. Weddings as well. There are moments when you need to be sensitive as a caterer, when someone is having a moment, and that’s not when you go up to them and ask them if they want their wine refilled.
I think that’s part of what’s making my business successful, it’s thinking that people are at the core of everything and need connection, people die without connection.
What would you say to other, would-be big city escapees?
I think people are drawn to big cities for employment purposes, but cities often pose challenges — because of the pace, the lack of time — to having authentic connections with others. I think that’s one of the things that the Hills has: the ability to really draw people out here.
So you connected or reconnected to something you do in the kitchen?
There you go…
Find this chef/socialworker at thefriendlychef.ca