YWCA Hamilton: Voices

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YWCA is catering to a good cause – from The Hamilton Spectator

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By Dan Kislenko – The Hamilton Spectator

The sandwich of marinated and grilled eggplant with crumbled goat cheese was delicious. And the burnt orange marmalade on the dark chocolate brownie was to die for.

Those are just a couple of the gourmet creations parading out of the kitchen of the downtown YWCA.

And anyone can enjoy them.

The Y recently and quietly started a new catering company called At The Table: Recipe For Change.

Its main purpose is to help fund the Y’s transitional living program, which provides shelter and support for women who are homeless, have suffered abuse or addictions or have mental health issues, with an eye to achieving independent living.

There are currently 65 women in the program, ranging in age from 16 to 75.

“We had to close our cafeteria a couple of years ago because of cost,” says Denise Doyle, chief executive officer of YWCA Hamilton.

“The kitchen was still there … we saw another group in Toronto get into catering to help fund their programs, and saw the opportunity.”

Doyle says the Hamilton Community Foundation paid for a feasibility study, and the Trillium Foundation provided funding — $150,000 over two years — to help cover start-up costs and to hire a chef, an assistant cook and a marketing/sales person for the full-service catering business.

Enter Dmitry Perov.

He was born in Russia and came to Hamilton as a young boy. He graduated from the George Brown College culinary program in Toronto in 2010, then apprenticed at the Bread Bar on Locke and worked as a grill cook at the Ancaster Mill and later as junior sous chef at Quatrefoil in Dundas.

When he was hired as head chef for At The Table, one of the first things he did was work with women in the program to make jams — including that marmalade — to use in the business.

“They had a real sense of pride,” Perov says. “Some of them already had the skills in the kitchen.

“I’ve worked at the high end of the restaurant business. As a young chef you want that,” he says. “Here I gain experience supervising the kitchen.”

Right now, At The Table is strictly catering — business functions, private parties and things like the Y’s child care program — but Doyle has bigger plans:

“The dream over the next couple of years is to pay off bills and make some profit, then expand into a café.

“The plan in the next year is that the women in the program will do hands-on catering work to acquire skills and experience. We want to make it an accredited training program, so the women can get jobs after they leave here.”

She says local community support for At The Table has been tremendous. “We can’t thank everyone enough,” she adds. “Every chef we’ve dealt with talks about the need for well-trained kitchen staff and say they would be interested in hiring women we train.

“And Jeff Crump and Julie Johnson, the owners of the Bread Bar, came on board as mentors for the business. They’ve been with us every step of the way.”

As for the food he cooks up, Perov says he likes a rustic touch. “I want food to look like the food it is,” he says.

He says his work has already opened his eyes. “In preparing the day-care food, I realized that a third of the children are Muslim, so I had to make sure things were halal. They loved the curry,” he says. “And as for nutrition, when I make something like macaroni and cheese I will add some puréed cauliflower to the sauce.”

At The Table has an extensive set catering menu — breakfast, lunch, dinner, hot or cold, simple or fancy — but Perov says he intends to quickly introduce custom orders offering just about any cuisine in the world.

The company will cater to groups as small as 10 people or as big as 200 and downtown business events are the initial focus, but they will go anywhere in the city.

“We’ve already had a few orders and things went very well,” Doyle says. “People can also rent facilities for functions at the MacNab and Ottawa street YWCAs. It’s important to know that every dollar invested goes back into the community.”

To read this article in online in the original format click here: http://www.thespec.com/living-story/4084852-ywca-is-catering-to-a-good-cause/