An exciting year, from Haida Gwaii to Belize!

Let’s just call this a long overdue blog post, Christmas card, annual newsletter and a reach out to the friends, cooking class participants, former customers and fellow local food enthusiasts that I miss and think about as the year nears to a close….all rolled into one!
About a year ago I had just returned to British Columbia after attending Terra Madre, a great culinary tour in Italy, and a special visit with friends and my son’s Austrian family in the alps. I stopped in Montreal along the way, to see my son Julian attempting to settle into a new life on his own. As a new empty nester, if I had hedged my bets at that point it would have seemed likely that I would return to Europe on a more permanent basis within a year or so. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d end up in Belize.

My heritage home in Fernwood & my Dutch bike

2011 Started quietly enough. In fact, I was practically hibernating in my house in the Fernwood neighbourhood of Victoria. A lengthy renovation to my heritage home had left me broke, and my move from Fairburn Farm, where I had spent 6 incredibly busy, happy years working hard and raising a son with a house full of people and a garden full of produce had left me suddenly living alone, without staff and customers wondering who I was now and what next to do with my life.
So as the New Year approached I made a list. Of the ten things I wanted to do in 2011. And then I stuffed it away in a drawer.
What I did not do:
I did not hike the west coast trail. I did not leave for a year in Europe studying language, but I did take a French language diploma course at UVIC. I did not write and stage a one woman play called the Chef Monologues chronicling my life through food. (OK, maybe that was a bit far fetched, besides the best part of my life through food may be yet to come so maybe I should save that one). I did not go and teach with my good friend, chef Peppe Zullo in Puglia, and I did not teach at George Brown College in Toronto, but I did make an appearance there, and at Calgary’s SAIT, two culinary schools I very much admire, as a guest speaker in a class this spring.
What I did do:

Frederique and I in front of the train in Jasper

I did manage to cross part of the country by train, through the Rockies from Vancouver to Edmonton and then from Toronto to Montreal by train with my friend Frederique Philip of Sooke Harbour House, meeting with Slow Food convivia, speaking and teaching cooking classes along the way. I also managed to teach my culinary bootcamp at beautiful Foxglove Farm on Saltspring Island using the fine products from the gardens of Michael and Jean Marie Ableman. And while I did not get to work on a private luxury yacht, I did manage to fulfil 3 dreams/goals in one, to start sailing again, to work on a boat and to see Haida Gwaii, by cooking for 3 weeks on the tall ship The Maple Leaf. I won’t lie, it was one of the hardest jobs I have ever done, and something it might have made more sense for me to do when I was 26, but it was a remarkable experience and one that I would not trade for anything. Little did I know that a year of gathering memories from so many iconic Canadian locales would in fact be my farewell to Canada.

One of the haunting village sites of Haida Gwaii

In July I made an unexpected trip to Belize, after a longtime Slow Food contact Anya Fernald, who had helped us set up the Red Fife Wheat Presidium in Canada, called me to tell me about an opening she had for a culinary director and chef . When I arrived in Belize to find an opportunity so ambitious, diverse and compelling that it spoke to all my skills and interests I just had to take it.

Cooking with the local ingredients in my new home at Belcampo Lodge Belize

So here I am, in the jungle in the Toledo district of Belize, on the Guatemalan border, the southern-most and poorest region in the country, with a new job as Culinary Director & Chef at Belcampo Lodge and Farms, Belize. We are located next to a 12,000 acre nature reserve, complete with a farm, burgeoning cacao plantation, and soon-to-be-built agritourism training and processing facility for rum, chocolate, vanilla and coffee. Here in Belize, I am using lots of fresh, line caught seafood, source meat from Mennonite farmers practice whole animal butchery, raise piglets and chickens, make fresh cheese in house, work with a farm team of 10 full time workers, and 5 Belizean cooks, while learning all about the culinary culture and how to use the tropical products of Belize. It is a terrific adventure. For those of you who came to see me in the Cowichan, it is kind of feels like Fairburn Farm, but in the tropics, multiplied by 10! There is not one growing season, there are three or four. Seeds can sprout in the garden within 24 hours, and if something perishes in the jungle, it will be gone in a matter of hours! With a project so long term, I hope to stay several years. My house in Victoria is rented, and all my belongings are packed away. While I have only been here 7 weeks, as I write, I am already feeling at home, although I look forward to coming back to Canada once or twice a year and I still do intend to lead my annual culinary tour and attend Slow Food’s Terra Madre in Italy in October.
For those of you wondering about Julian, at 20 he has had a great year and has grown up a lot. He is still consumed with food and cooking, and very proud to now be working (and hopefully learning French!) for one of Canada’s best chefs, Normand Laprise, at Brasserie T in Montreal. I had a great surprise when he decided to come back to work at Sooke Harbour House this summer, and it was a treat to have him stay with me in my house in Fernwood. Eun Mi Yang also stayed this spring. Like a part of my family for so many years, it was great to see Eun Mi again and have her help me with the bootcamp at Foxglove Farm. She is back in Korea, and as always, missed by many!
Last but not least, there were a few things that gave me great pleasure this year that were unexpected. I thoroughly enjoyed my time teaching at Cook Culture, the new cook wear shop and cooking school in the new Atrium building in downtown Victoria.

Fun Teaching at Cook Culture, here with fellow chefs Gen, David & Shelora

I met so many great people in the classes, worked with a wonderful staff and had the most supportive boss I could ask for in Jed Greive. The place became my home away from home, and visiting the gang at the new Zambris after teaching for a beer or a bite to eat didn’t hurt either. I also loved getting my big old black Dutch bike on the road again. That bike was my transportation for 10 years in Toronto, back before Julian was born and I loved riding it around the neighbourhoods of Victoria this year. After years of farming on acreages with endless weeding, equipment breakdowns,WOOFERS, and projects, it was fun to manage my postage stamp sized backyard garden alone. It felt good to bend down and stretch in the garden each morning, filling a basket with weeds and gleaning enough produce for myself and some of my cooking classes. It was great to connect with old and new friends in Victoria, especially those with kids, as I could feel like a grandma or aunt, enjoying short visits but going home afterwards to my own space! I had an unexpected invite to a Slow Food Foundation meeting in Pollenzo Italy in February. It was great to get back to Italy, see friends Roberto Mullisano and Federico and Emanuele Bobbio and to attend truly inspiring meetings with people who have been working 10 years or more with Slow Food. The breadth and depth of the work made me feel proud to be part of the movement. Finally, I got to spend many weekends with my good friends Sinclair and Frederique Philip, having dinners together at their house in Sooke on Sundays, and taking mushroom walks with Sinclair.
Last but not least, it was, and always is, on my list to get in shape! Well the demands of my new job and the heat have taken a few pounds off and I do feel energetic and generally healthy. But I guess some goals are just ongoing!
Wishing you all a great holiday season and a very happy 2012. Please keep in touch!
twitter: @chefinthejungle
where I am:
(transitioning from

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