Where (the other) Chris Brown stops to make a difference
2009 has been a year of change for Chris Brown. He saw the waning of Perigee, the upmarket Distillery restaurant where he was executive chef and partner and for which he fought tooth and nail (including a mid-recession, mid-winter canopé giveaway in front of Union Station). When Perigee finally closed in April, Brown turned briefly to consulting work, which he describes as “frustrating.” Then, Nick Saul, The Stop Community Food Centre’s executive director, approached the chef about the non-profit’s vacant food enterprise co-ordinator position. “I didn’t think of applying, but when I asked my friends at Cross Town Kitchens for someone to recommend, they were like, ‘You idiot, it’s you!’”
We catch up with Brown, freshly returned from his nuptials in Italy and Paris, to hear how he ended up at the happiest point in his life and career.
As a culinary student at George Brown College, Chris Brown was puzzled by the largely negative responses the homeless gave him when he would try to give them a free meal after class. “All these years I wondered about the two per cent [that took my offer]—those that needed help. When I found The Stop, I found that two per cent. I was meant for this.”
After spending three hours preparing a hearty lunch for those in need, Brown explains that the meal program helps those who are struggling with hunger and poverty “feel normal. They don’t feel secluded in their problems; they’re a part of a community. It’s not degrading; they’re treated like a customer.”
Brown’s major responsibility is finding innovative ways to fund The Stop’s programs. Proving the point that anyone can cook, his first project was the monthly Food for Change Dinner Series, which gives hardcore foodies two options: experience a full day working in a professional kitchen, or partake in the feast. The response has been very positive, with many events selling out shortly after being announced. The second initiative, Cooking Boot Camp, is exactly what it sounds like. The program capitalizes on Brown’s locavore tendencies and his history as a chef and teacher.
Although he admits that he has still much to learn about non-profit work, Brown tells us that he would love to see The Stop in other Canadian cities. He toys with the idea of opening a cooking school for kids or a neighbourhood café. Whatever the prospects, he admits that this year has taught him to be less afraid of the unknown and to challenge his limits. “It gets better and better. There are so many possibilities, and now I can have a normal life. I can go to barbecues, hang out with friends…and I can’t wait to start a family.”
Brown doesn’t believe in luck, “especially with what happened earlier this year, but for the first time I feel lucky that I’m here…I feel like I’m part of the change for the greater good. I can’t say it enough, I love it here.”