chefs plating food for Chefs for change event

Toronto’s best chefs support Community Food Centres Canada

There’s a very cool side benefit to this event: it helps people access healthy food with dignity

It all started with a conversation in the kitchen at Propeller Coffee, a coffee shop and roaster in Toronto’s Bloordale neighbourhood. Chef Chris Brown had just finished catering a private event there and was winding down with Losel Tethong, the shop’s co-founder and co-owner. The two quickly started talking about co-hosting more events. Tethong had an Instagrammable space that is well lit and, for a coffee shop, spacious. Brown had years of cooking experience and rich social network of talented chefs.

They weren’t interested in making money. They just wanted to connect with like-minded people in the food industry—like Brown’s good friend Nick Saul, President and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC). Saul joined the duo to launch Chefs for Change, a series of fundraising dinners where chefs from across the country come together to feed approximately 100 attendees per event. Net profits from the events go to CFCC, which supports organizations across the country that bring food programs to low-income communities. The focus of the dinners is first and foremost to bring people together for a good time. 

“When you don’t have to worry about money, you can enjoy and appreciate the true nature of why you’re doing what you’re doing,” says Brown. “What we’re in this industry for is very simple. People might get distracted by the rock star, Food Network and social media B.S., but [most of us] are in this industry to just make people happy.”

Chefs for change first course gruyère and bone marrow beignet

The dinners, which all take place at Propeller Coffee, involve at least 10 chefs from buzz-worthy restaurants, plus a crew of culinary students from George Brown College. Chefs are paired off to create a course together. Everyone donates their time. 

“Events have to mirror what happens at CFCCs. At Food Centres, we want people to feel hopeful and we want places where people can connect over food and build friendships,” Saul says, adding that research suggests that at least 85 per cent of CFCC clients have made at least one friendship at a food centre that has been sustained outside of the organization. “This just shows the importance of connecting over food. Our events are about good food, a beautiful space and great people.” 

Chefs for Change event at Propeller Coffee
Pork belly dish prepared for Chefs for Change event
Chef Lora Kirk of Ruby Watchco preparing hare terrine

Chefs for Change attendee Zainab Abdurrahman agrees. “As soon as I walked through the door I was struck by how intimate the event is,” she says. While Abdurrahman waited for a friend to arrive, Saul, who seamlessly works the room at events, noticed her standing alone and came over to chat.  

“It was so nice to have that introduction to Nick,” she said. “You don’t get that personal approach at big fundraising galas.”

Nick Saul reaching across a table full of diners
chocolate tres leches dessert on white plate
Chefs for change event guests clinking glasses

This year, Chefs for Change raised $150,000 through ticket sales, donations, bar sales and sponsorships. But Saul says the money isn’t the only benefit. The event is just as important when it comes to building relationships with existing donors and attracting new ones to the organization. 

“Food is not just this simple commodity,” says Saul. “We can see there’s a huge relationship between food and income inequality, poor health and climate change. And we’re always hopeful to find more converts to those broader discussions.”