In Conversation with Chantal Denis

By: Scott Douglas Jacobsen (GNH Community Journalist/Blogger)


Tell us about your brief background – family, education, and work.

I was born and raised in Ottawa, and lived there until I left to attend Western University in London, Ontario. I started out in biomedical sciences but ended up graduating with a degree in psychology, with the goal of teaching primary French immersion. During the summer of 2012, I had a rather sudden change of heart and realized that I wanted to pursue food. Vegetarian at the time, I found a job at one of Ottawa’s most well known vegetarian restaurants, a pay-by-weight buffet called The Green Door. That was where my cooking career began and where I was first introduced to the kind of large scale cooking I now do daily. I spent 3 years working there, including while I was taking a post-graduate certificate in Event Management. Last summer, I cooked for a tree-planting camp and after that I decided, on a whim, to move to Vancouver in pursuit of a better life as a commuter cyclist. Only a month after my arrival, I was lucky enough to land a job as Vega’s Office Chef, where I prepare a daily vegan lunch for 100 employees at their headquarters in Burnaby. So far, my life on the West Coast has been pretty dreamy!

How did you find out about Gordon Neighbourhood House?

The weekend after I officially moved to Vancouver, I met a friend of a friend on a trip to Salt Spring Island. She lives in the West End and had been involved with GNH. She told me about the Nourish photo series and suggested that I be photographed. That photoshoot led to an in-depth conversation with Matt (the photographer and chair of GNH’s Community Advisory Board) about food philosophy. He introduced me to Paul and the rest is history!

What interested you about us?

I think the first thing that really drew me to GNH is the incredible energy of the space. It’s a hard thing to describe, but I suppose the best way to put it is that Gordon has very, very good vibes. After such a good first impression, what sealed the deal was the fact that Gordon’s food philosophy so closely mirrors my own. Their radical stance on food security really resonated with me and I absolutely love how community-minded all of their food programming is.

Now, you’re the Cooking With Chantal and Veggie Soup-a-Stars Coordinator for Gordon Neighbourhood House. What tasks and responsibilities come with these positions?

Cooking With is a plant-based cooking class that I have the absolute pleasure of teaching once a month. For this class, I am responsible for choosing a theme and then developing/selecting recipes that we will be making. Once all that preparation is done and the ingredients have been acquired, I am responsible for facilitating the 2 hour class with my goal always being to empower people to cook by providing as many new skills and laughs as I can.

Veggie Soup-a-Stars is a weekly community kitchen that is much more low key than the cooking classes. I am responsible for leading a group of amazing volunteers as we prepare a large meal Sunday evenings that will be served for “Meatless Monday” – a pay-what-you-can lunch program that usually attracts around 25 people. I don’t prepare recipes for this group but I do have to plan the menus and gather the ingredients. I am also responsible for weekly reminders to the group and coordinating things if I happen to be away for a weekend. During the community kitchen, I assign tasks and provide tips when applicable. We’ve developed into a really strong team and I am so impressed by how efficient we are and by what a lovely community we’ve created!

How did you come upon, and earn, these positions?

I feel very grateful that these positions were more or less created for me by Paul and Chantille. I expressed interest in getting involved with GNH and wanted to put to use my large-scale cooking experience as well as my passion for making plant-based cooking affordable and accessible. After a few chats with Chantille, they created these programs that were a great fit for me to facilitate as well as very complementary additions to the existing programming at GNH.

Where do you hope Gordon Neighbourhood House moves forward into the future?

I hope that GNH never lets go of its radical food philosophy and keeps pushing the boundaries of the current food system in Vancouver. I believe that food programs are such an integral part of the work done by Gordon and I hope that they continue to evolve in a meaningful and community-minded way. I think that Gordon being involved in the creation of a Community Food Centre would be a huge step towards a better, more just food system in Vancouver.



Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger. He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing.