Chef Jagger Gordon on how to reduce food insecurity and waste

Accomplished Toronto Chef Jagger Gordon joined us in studio to share the inspiration behind his philanthropic endeavours to battle food insecurity and reduce food waste.

In this engaging conversation you’ll hear about a new app which lets people share extra food with people in need as well as how Jagger made his way to the Ukraine through Poland recently and fed citizen soldiers fighting Russian forces; with José Andrés World Central Kitchen and then his own exploration of the interior.

*About Chef Jagger Gordon’s Charity, Feed it Forward

Feed It Forward is a Toronto based Canadian not for profit organisation with two main goals; to feed Canadians that are food insecure and to reduce food waste.

Our mission is to make a difference in the lives of our fellow Canadians who are in need of assistance in securing nutritious food and a regular balanced diet.

Feed It Forward donated over 1.7 million meals during the course of the pandemic helping to provide food security for people throughout Ontario. In this uncertain time, he went mobile with his new Food Truck program bringing thousands of hot and frozen meals to communities around Ontario, including Humber College, U Of T, George Brown College and Ryerson University. He believes a hungry stomach is a hungry mind and no student or person should worry about where their next meal is coming from.

Feed It has a new free food sharing app created by Chef Gordon that gives everyone the opportunity to help eliminate food waste and reroute it onto tables all around the world while helping people be socially responsible.

In a rush? Here are some highlights from this conversation

  • Food insecurity and community support. (0:00)
  • Food, travel, and waste with a single father turned chef. (2:20)
  • Food waste and its impact with a chef who started a pay-what-you-can grocery store. (5:24)
  • Food waste and entrepreneurship. (11:28)
  • Creating a food rescue app and helping those in need. (13:50)
  • Digital citizenship and social ventures in Toronto. (20:41)
  • Humanitarian efforts in Ukraine during conflict. (23:34)
  • Food aid in Ukraine and its challenges. (27:02)
  • Culinary arts and kitchen work culture. (33:27)
  • Work-life balance and salaries in Canada's labor market. (36:09)
  • Entrepreneurship, food industry, and cooking. (42:23)
  • Food, cooking, and the food industry. (45:34)

Spend time with this conversation - here's the full transcript

Unknown Speaker 0:00

Qasim Virjee 0:20
all right, welcome back to the 48th episode of the stairwell podcast. Once again, I'm Qasim Virjee. In studio here on King Street West is start well, and today joined by a Torontonian that has a very interesting story. One that is hopefully quite nourishing to our listeners, our audience, excuse the pun. He is a chef and a, I don't know, we're gonna get into it entrepreneur,

Jagger Gordon 0:42
more like a philanthropic chef, will you leave it out? There

Qasim Virjee 0:45
you go. I like that. And, and it's Jagger Gordon from feed it forward. Welcome to the studio.

Jagger Gordon 0:52
I appreciate you. Thanks a lot.

Qasim Virjee 0:53
Pleasure to have you here. And you are the first. You know, you're not the first food guy to be in the studio. We've had growers, we've had grocers. But we haven't had anyone who, who handles food in that way and prepares food. So let's, let's talk let's let's backtrack. Okay, like give me your kind of like, quick backstory on how you became a chef.

Jagger Gordon 1:19
Right? You know, as a child, I didn't have the structure at home where I had a full fridge or a cupboard full of food. So I relied on going to my neighbor's house where he always had five boxes of cereal and things to choose from on a Saturday morning with cartoons that were in color. And so having that opportunity gave me, you know, the excitement, and through my childhood, I moved progressively fast in the ranks from Military School and on to find some grounding, as my parents were never around as I lost my father than I lost my mother. Having that said, you know, through community I relied on and being raised in Montreal and moved to Florida, I got to live through two hurricanes, one of them Hugo and Andrew, losing my whole community to one at a young age, I got to step up to see how community pulls together to let alone get provisions, but food and such. So that opened my eyes and then from moving around the world through different careers. I ended up here in Toronto, and Toronto, and that was one When did you move here 19 I believe 92. Okay. And I was on a security contract. So I went to private security. And I was a you know, I was a target for many people around the world. And my ego just followed around with me. And my last contract, brought me back to Toronto, or brought me to Toronto, met a wonderful woman who was 10 years old, and I was and she we had a child together, it didn't work out too well. So I became a single father. And my daughter who's now 27 years old, is my best friend. So that's my backstory, you know, and that's my daughter was growing up here in Toronto. We ran into the same scenario, but unfortunately, we had five boxes of cereal in our in our cupboards, and her friends didn't have it. So one side of the street had the wealth and when the other side of the street didn't. And so one morning, I woke up as it was my day off sending my daughter off to her friend's house to have a little sleepover her a bunch of little giggling girls in my living room. I think 6am or 7am It'd be coming downstairs. You know, I asked Babe, you know, this is my day off. I'm supposed to be sleeping in Why are you guys here and she goes, Dad, you know, the her friend's name and her two sisters. We had a sleepover and we went into the fridge for breakfast and there was nothing there. So that's what woke up my my story. And my story was I went straight to the school and I said if there's any food systems or programs, let's just open a door and see how we can do this. And then I just said, wow, you know, my passion is food. Like I always love to cook. I always entertain with cooking, we cook air and we eat every day. So I went to culinary school. Where did you go? I went to George Brown. Okay, then I went to lie as in college, but George Brown was a really special place where I got to meet some great chefs that instructed me at an older age to do they have the restaurant at that point. Yeah, they just started that down. Yeah, it was pretty amazing. But having that said, you know being inspired by the chef's I just wanted to have a little more sense of traveling with my food. So I went and packed up my bags with my daughter after my culinary school and we just went staging around the world.

Qasim Virjee 4:40
Wow. Amazing. So how young was she when you guys hit the road? Oh, five. Yeah, cuz my daughter is four and a half. So that's about now in my brain. Wow. Yeah. And

Jagger Gordon 4:51
it's fun. I got to learn my Indian cuisine. I got to learn my Thai cuisine. Like I started specializing in unique flavor profiles and bringing my master I was back to Toronto, where I opened up my first catering company. And from there, I started seeing the copious amounts of food being wasted through my company. And I just wanted to do something about it. And so I did my first pop up in the Trinity Bellwoods. And that was 1994 or 2004. Sorry, today, excuse me, I'm the I'm what decade? Are we? Yeah, right. 2014. Okay. That's where it all came down to, to like it

Jagger Gordon 5:27
was a while ago, eight years ago now, which doesn't sound like a made it makes sense. This is where the

Jagger Gordon 5:31
philanthropic part came into being a chef. I start from seeing the waste. And then we did this pop up on Thanksgiving, and a few 100 people showed up looking for a meal. And when I saw women and children in hand, humbly asking for you know, a meal, I was like, Well, I'm not alone in this world with the food waste and maybe we just need to be collectively collaborate and figured out how it can be done. So that's when I just put my thoughts together. And we opened up a pay what you can free restaurant called the soup bar at Dundas and Bathurst that was the beginning of everything. I got to see

Qasim Virjee 6:13
the out of pocket like you, you rented a space. Yeah, you built out the kitchen. I'm guessing

Jagger Gordon 6:17
everything was, you know, yes, everything was done out of pocket. But that's not it. Food, food was an abundance of waste, and I wanted to utilize it. But what got the message out was the media, social media, the media picked up on the fact that you're handing out free food. Now, it wasn't just free food, it was rescued food. And that was my new term, you know, rescuing food, and getting the message out. Everyone has food that needs to be rescued. And people started coming to me and saying we have so much for you. And this is where the restaurant came to light. Feeding a few 100 people a day gave me the inspiration. This means

Qasim Virjee 6:56
ingredients or finished food like people's leftover

Jagger Gordon 6:58
No. So leftovers. So that's yeah, you know, it's something we should talk about. Here in Canada, we have what's called the good Samaritans act 94, which means that there's any food in good standing, that it can be donated without liability. Having that said, there's a lot of companies out there that says we can't donate our food because of the expiry is the ultimate freshness raise worried about, we'll get sued. But that's when I put my foot started putting my foot and dent or to all the big corporations and saying, Well, there's actually a lot protects you on this. So Whole Foods was my first contributor. Then we went into the bread companies, and then we just moved into farming that's pre expiry

Qasim Virjee 7:38
food that they were donating or like daily bread and all sorts of stuff. Why

Jagger Gordon 7:43
do you hear so here's the tip of the iceberg on this one. So Whole Foods has a policy that three days prior to their optimal freshness state, they destroy everything, they destroy it. So if it being a packaged head of lettuce, or tomatoes or whatever being, and if it's three days prior to that state, they will destroy it no matter what it looks like. Now also keep in mind when you have a packaged, let's say a sense of packaged a bunch of grapes. And these grapes have one little fuzzy grape in there, they'll destroy the whole package. Or if you have a bag full of tomatoes, and one tomato goes amiss, they can't take the tomato out and sell the bag by its weight because it's missing weight so they destroy it all. Multiplying that into the farming aspect. The tractor trailer loads across the border. If a tractor trailer load was held at the border for an extra day, that means though that product probably will be not ready for market or has expired itself to before he gets on to market. So that's where we came in to start rescuing the stuff at the soup or the soup bar progressively grew too fast for me. From the media aspect. It was just lineups people were bad too. But the country just the world wanted to know how to replicate it. So I said this has to be go a little bigger. This is where I saved up enough money out of my own pocket for my catering as a social enterprise. I opened up the first pay which can free grocery store. Now this grocery store rests and lays right now into the junction where we feed a few 100 people a day. And it's it's pretty amazing to walk into a store with dignity and shop and being able to take what you need. If you can't afford it. Then we have a point system that we've established or if you are socially responsible, you donate what you want to help another. And that's basically two of the 13 programs I've created when it comes to food rescue of

Qasim Virjee 9:43
the 13 programs. Wow. So as you got digging into this, what I mean as a chef also now you want to tooled up your knowledge on kind of like technique and what you can actually do with ingredients. Yeah, kinda gets scary when you start looking at how much gets wasted because there's like, potentially so many delicious things that are just like not born, and people eating bad crap, you know, in substitution, because of the way that like, I would guess the the conventional means of feeding people who can't afford to walk into Whole Foods and buy stuff, like canned food. That's right. And, and so yeah, there's a million ways you can you can start getting excited about this stuff. Well,

Jagger Gordon 10:29
not to Trump. But that's where the excitement came with me knowing that my store is an abundance of organic products where people can just show up and take what they need for healthier awake is that theory of the healthy stomachs a healthy mind. And just to transition a little further, when I created this superar concept, it worked for a year or two, and the Scholastic systems looking into it, where we established the soup bar as a brick and mortar into the colleges of Humber. So cool. Yeah. And that was really amazing where I, I started having this class where I was able to teach sustainability to the students and faculty where people can obtain the following day with products that we've rescued from the campus into nutritionally balanced meals that fed over a couple 100 people again, daily. So there's just a win win scenario, it's just about sending the message out, being able to describe and talk about the the amount of waste that comes from our own homes and from the industry. I mean, 58% of all food that's manufactured here in Canada alone gets destroyed before it gets to market. Yet we have people going hungry, that can feed world hunger times three annually of the waste that comes from our own country. It's a really sad number. And here in Toronto, we have one in seven families, if not less now that are struggling with food insecurities. And so we have to figure out how do how do we tackle this on because through feed afford, which is the name of my company, we I did all this without funding. I now have over 2900 volunteers registered in my program that run our own farms, our logistics, our warehousing, our catering operations, our restaurants, our our grocery stores, and food manufacturing. So I've obtained great crew members that team leaders that just want to see the purpose come alive and thrive. But it's hard as a one man team. Oh, yeah. Because pretty challenged brother, man, but you know what it is? I've

Qasim Virjee 12:31
always been a bootstrap kind of entrepreneur. And I mean, there's so many problems with that approach, right, is that it's tough to it's tough to allocate cashflow, especially if you're like a highly efficient person who's doing so many jobs in a way to delegate relegate, you know, and to remove yourself from the process as well as, you know, spend money.

Jagger Gordon 12:53
I'm too passionate and engaged. That's my problem. And that's what people hold me accountable. Like, they go, why, why would you do this, and I'm going, well, if I make $2, and I know $1, I can survive off. And I know that one extra dollar instead of buying something that's very lavish to myself versus someone else that's near me. I could feed maybe 10 People with it. So I've taken that. And I've also stated that not only in my own backyards here in Canada, but the world needs to feel what the impact that I can create. And that's where I've took feet of Ford around the world, you know, from. I'll give you an example, when we had the Miami Dade sea surf collapse. Miami Dade, Surfside collapse, with abundant building collapse, I took the lead as the executive chef to feed the world cruise I came in to assist and all the victims families and such. And that opened my eyes and devastation. Bringing myself back to Florida knowing that I lived through a hurricane and such, but this was different. This touched me differently because of death, I should say and people, you know, need that support. But what brought me to the other parts of world like Ukraine, where I just recently traveled to and I was there in the trenches in the war zones itself. And last few months. Yeah, well, a few months ago. And it's because it's been going on for quite some time, crazy almost a year. So I worked with World central kitchen with Chef Jose and then did the the central kitchen thing. I just felt I needed to do a little more. Because, you know, I'm independent. And there's no controlling me, right? So I decided to go from where they were stationed in Poland. I went into the Ukraine itself, and that's when everything changed for me. So I geared up with a whole team. We were all covered up while I was with the medical supply team where we recruited restaurants and then we started doing provisions and literally finding finding volunteer drivers and we put everything together and we started feeding 10s of 1000s of people are in multi multiple locations, right into the war zones. Okay, so our I technically wasn't supposed to travel into any hot zones, but I, I pushed my boundaries and I took unnecessary risks. And I mean unnecessary risk where we traveled at very different rates of speeds of speed of light and Godspeed, to get into locations where they're bombardments everything's done by infantry. And it's such a coward war, I would say because it's pushed by a button by a drone. And it's, it's a faceless word.

Qasim Virjee 15:35
And it's coming out of nowhere. And there's people on the ground dying, and they're like, wait, no one killed me. And it's just machine killing. It's

Jagger Gordon 15:42
just not even people. Yeah, it's children. So I'm in the trenches with these children that are protecting their own villages. They're wearing flip flops. Now flip flops holding a coalition, a coffin tag without a helmet without Kevlar. And I'm, where are you boots? So the analogy that would be it's like, oh, well, you know, there's no Canadian tar down the street, or it's no marks warehouse, right. So the theory that they gave to me, this is a little 17 year old telling me Well, when I find a dead soldier, I'll take the boots off of them, right. So the best side that I could have done and do is create food and make sure those bellies were warm, why they protected their grandparents, because no matter not one man was able to leave that country, in stores. And so that was just part of the idea of bringing food to different countries. But then I created a free food app. And that's what I brought there. So I can share food around the world. It's like a beak, it's like the bat signal for where food can be. So for babushka, made a big bowl of bush and she wanted to share it with the HERC with her fellow citizens, she would take a picture of it upload and post, where it was when, when it could be received. And it's a way of communicating in an easy way, I should say for people that get free food. So

Qasim Virjee 16:59
as a user, you post your excess. And you say this is available at this location. Yeah. And you offer it to people to come to get it. Yeah, like

Jagger Gordon 17:06
it even to the point where it would be harvesting off of a tree that's blooming. So an avocado or mango tree of being in Central America. It's in Spanish, also, where I brought it there just so people can harvest and share the wealth of the fruits of nectars of Mother Earth.

Qasim Virjee 17:22
So in the process of this must have been something you were planning for for a while to look into how to create such an app. Yeah.

Jagger Gordon 17:30
It's like everything else in my mind continuously.

Qasim Virjee 17:32
Yeah, like a good idea. That's kind of like you're thinking more on as time goes on. And you find the people that can help you put it together. Yeah. And then how, how did you roll that out? Or how is it being rolled out? How are you promoting it

Jagger Gordon 17:45
to not?

Qasim Virjee 17:46
So it's organic, like organic?

Jagger Gordon 17:48
Well, I'm just rolling with it. Because I that's where I'm weak at, you know, I'm really good at finding creative ways to utilize food, rescue it, put it back onto the tables of millions of people, I think we're almost at 2 million people that I've served since. And I just don't have the financing, or the creativity sense of how to promote it yet. Now, there's a lot of great like minded people that surround me, but don't, that I could utilize, I guess, but never had the asks. And I guess it's

Qasim Virjee 18:20
not as difficult when you're running right? To like, stop and think of, of how to kind of build that promotional vehicle and the marketing around things and raising exposure to the issue, or the solutions to the issues as well. So hopefully, through this episode, there'll be a little bit of kind of, you know, if any of our audience are particularly inspired to get in touch, we'll we'll drop the contacts in the post. But the app is interesting, because it's a problem that we've been thinking about for five years here. Whenever we have catering on campus, which is now like every single meeting that happens, that's a full day meeting, the excess is typically going to be 2x What was eaten, you know, so you end up with like, when you got a 30 person meeting, and you've got like, 15 full meals, right? And the inevitable thing is the host of the meeting is going to be like take it down if they have any effort down to our front desk. And you know, our front desk person or a concierge or barista is like, here's a bunch of meals, you know, happy birthday, and they're like, Well, someone else just did that. Three minutes ago, I've got so much food to get rid of. And they're always calling around the shelters and stuff and they're like, We can't take it. We can't take it. Yeah, no one will take responsibility for the food. But then how do you distribute it? So this is quite compelling. How is the app working out in Toronto? Well,

Jagger Gordon 19:37
it's slowly working I mean, we utilize it whoever takes initiative to share and care make that happen. You know, it's also just done unnecessarily to share in the food it's about eliminating that food waste because you know, that's that's great that the receptions or everyone got received all that food that was an abundance of our leftovers. But it's like it is overwhelming. And it's disappointing to when you think oh a show altar or a food bank and take this, you know, like you're inspired and you're expressing that. Oh, what do you mean, you can't take it. So that disappointment sets in, and then that leaves a little bitter taste in one's mouth. Because knowing that I have to throw all this food out. So this is where the app comes in. And it gives people that opportunity now. Wow, when and how it gets popular? Well, it's a different story. That's where teamwork comes to make that dream work. So right, yeah, it'll happen one day, I just say things happen organically. And there's a time in place such as now, right here, why things happen? And so I guess this is the moment where we discuss and say, if you're out there, and you know, anything more than I do, please help.

Qasim Virjee 20:41
Yeah, no, definitely. I think it's, it's super interesting. There's definitely enough people that I can, I'll connect you with after this, that can help pick it up in different ways. And definitely people listening and watching to this episode that I think, you know, we have to invite to help promote the use of this app. I mean, this is sort of something that, I don't know, I kind of like this a weird brain fart. But for a while, I've been kind of very, through the pandemic, especially I've had a number of conversations with people, you know, critically, looking at the composure of our digital society. In Canada, we're one of the first countries in the world to have almost ubiquitous high speed internet, right, going back to the 90s, like the late 90s. By 2000. Almost every urban house had access, whether they bought it or not, because of course, we have monopolies in telecom. But we had this ridiculous infrastructure of communication. Yet our government hasn't catch caught on to enable digital services kind of fast enough and quick enough, in terms of the social services side of things, we really haven't had any unfortunately, like a digital digital citizenship program, digital communication, that's like representative government, where people citizens can kind of interact with each other in a non commercial Facebook, you know. And in something like that would would definitely enable this kind of communication of values and the expression of them and sharing the sharing economy, like so much more. So it is kind of difficult, because if you're doing any social venture to help people in this way, it's almost like you you feel sometimes, like you're competing against commercial entities, for a non profit way to help people. And it's like, I don't have our advertising money. Like why should I compete against someone with, you know, with anyone really, to just help people? Yeah, it's difficult. That's why it's cool to feature people that are from Toronto that are like, particularly, you know, doing local projects of any other project outside of the world, wherever. But serendipity always comes out of these episodes, someone will watch it and be like, I'm always surprised. Someone will reference something that I said in one of the podcasts neckties say that I don't, I don't remember.

Jagger Gordon 22:56
Oh, interesting, because now we'll be analyzing what did I say? What did I did not? So many things. I'm sure I would love to say more. But that's yeah, get you.

Qasim Virjee 23:06
I'm really interested in this kind of conviction that you have, and how you've communicated it with others that share that conviction to like, you know, have people not go hungry when they don't have to? So are there any particular stories you could tell? Maybe even from this recent experience in the Ukraine of how other people how are you or maybe even felt comfortable? Leaving then seeing people pick up the mantle?

Jagger Gordon 23:34
Wow, yeah. Well, first and foremost, when I went into Ukraine, thinking I was knives blades, like I was just, I was ready to do this. Start up the kitchens, we're gonna get this claim. But what I ran into the reality was, is every air raid that came about, we had to turn off the gas, turn off the lights. So however, being in going to our shelters, and knowing myself, I'm here I'm wearing, you know, I was privileged enough to outfit myself with like, $13,000 worth of protective gear, while the my sous chef, or my cooks next to me are wearing shorts or, or just a shimmies like, it's just, it's just, it blew my mind thinking that here I feel I'm protecting myself, but I can't protect them. And of course, everything takes funding, because everyone requests it all. We need help. We need we need products, we need medical, we need food. And then I'm scratching my own pockets going, how can I do this and of course, nothing sustainable. I just have this passion and urge to help and create and put it out there. And this is where it came down to with the app and stuff like that where if I can help one person with something that I've created, then I've know I've done done my job, but how brilliant would it be if I can help 100 So being there, as I fed 1000s of people, I really did inspire the locals as I would have done here I guess or anywhere else because they saw other drive from someone who comes from they thought I was representing Canada itself. And it was cool to hear the soldiers unfortunately, I won't say soldiers, the civilians that are protecting their Yeah, right or townships

Qasim Virjee 25:12
the whole country has become militarized. They are out of necessity. Yeah.

Jagger Gordon 25:16
Computer programmers holding up weapons now, long story short, but you know, being able to leave and give and create a program through feed, afford it still initialize there, which is great. It just takes funding. And that's where it really bothers me because you think, oh, what people will listen, people will understand, I never really had the asks. Now. I mean, you get to see a lot of these celebrities, you get to see all these great people going in and making their appearances and stuff and doing the clout aspects of things. But my world, it's different. I'd rather just see people put their money where their mouth is and help support programs that are already initialized are because there are so many civilians and people working hard just to help another. So creating the beautiful program just takes funding out of my pocket for to continuously go. The hardest part is is when you lose a field goal or when you lose, you lose your volunteers to to death. And I had to face that reality to like, while you were there while I was there, and while I've been away, and that's really hard on you because you think, wow, that could have been me. Right? In? Yeah. That so heavy. It would have been me. Yeah. But what do you do? My So all's I'm telling myself is I need to get back down there. I told myself I had a passion, but I know that I can do more here now. Sure. But I technically I tell myself why I did so much while I was there because I had two people there with me and I was able to see where my last meal went. And I was able to be part of it all. And from here I feel my hands are tied. Because logistic wise I have, you know, have a truckload of protein bars and water water wipes, which are baby wipes for and I'll give you an example. Imagine being in any little village without running water or electricity, and you have to use the washroom. Toilet paper doesn't grow on trees there. You can't go to a corner or no corner stores to buy toilet paper. So they're using whatever they can have to clean themselves without running water. Yeah. So what I what I have now is I have truckloads of these water wipes I have, you know, food and protein bars, I just want to ship down there. But the price of shipping as and has increased is not a crazy thing. And let alone the pirates. Right. And I'll say that very discreetly. That's why I like going down there to watch my product get where it needs to get because unfortunately people it just never makes it there. Yeah, corruption every so when we took our convoys of food to the furthest locations in to the border lines. I think I went through one trip we drove by 18 hours straight back and forth, was a night mission for us to drop off. And the every checkpoint, Ukrainian checkpoint. There were villagers. So they weren't trained. And some of them have been trained previously. But the thing is, is there's a lot of corruption in that way where they would take something off that truck, so by the time I get to the end, they are feeding them already half full. Right. So I found a really good way to to appease everyone, and that's by every cigarette available. So I think I had over 100 cartons of cigarettes, I mean, there were $1 a pack so it was a great deal. And I would just say as a food give this just hand off a carton of cigarettes to checkpoint and we're good to go. So it was pretty, pretty interesting to see that dynamic in a war zone. But leaving from there what I would only wish is for the app to be utilized further because it's in Ukrainian and in Polish. And for people just to help each other because food is not a privilege. It's not and we seem to make it that way and especially healthy food.

Qasim Virjee 29:19
No absolutely. I mean look the urban reality of kind of any metropole of North America where people are earning quarter million dollars a year and trying out every fancy restaurant that they can go to and spending you know without questions asked 150 bucks and their guests check for one or two people at a table is the exact opposite of of that reality. And the funny thing is and I wonder how that came up in your in your travels or your work there. The funny thing is I think you know before the war Ukraine was was probably a pretty enough people were pretty healthy and had access to abundance. Yeah. So it's funny to see how so quickly a place of abundance. And as a, even a grower community raising, aren't they the largest single in the region largest single grower of grain? Yep. And overnight,

Jagger Gordon 30:16
it all changed it all changes. And you know, for my first time there I was able to have some form of culinary as a culinary artist, I got to see the the food world and they put such passion into it. These restaurants give you the incredible experience. Now the fun part is no, I can't say fun part. The exciting part is is knowing the passion that's put into it the what the experience of the food and what's played it in front of you and the flavor profiles. But when the air ray comes during the day, morning or whatever, if you have a little cup of coffee later, right comes your put your food down, you walk into your your bunker, whatever be or run into it. But when you come back the gas and everything's turned back on, they fire that same meal right back up. That's crazy.

Qasim Virjee 31:00
And they it's this is concave or like anywhere anyway,

Jagger Gordon 31:03
depending on what the martial law was anywhere. Yeah, pretty much anywhere.

Qasim Virjee 31:07
This is what I've been reading about. And a lot of new sources are not new sources, but more like editorialized kind of magazine II type reported from the region is that it is so bizarre that very quickly, almost like it's become normalized, to live with the threat, but not be constantly threatened by it.

Jagger Gordon 31:27
That's right. It's so unique to see how the locals have adapted. When and when an error right or array goes off. It's some just tend not to even bother with it. Because if that's their time, the way it was described me if it's their time, it's your time, right? Let's just get you a couple more hours or a couple more days. It's

Qasim Virjee 31:51
interesting, because I mean, I grew up between East Africa and Canada, right? So in 1982, we moved to Kenya and and I lived under a dictatorship through my early teens, before moving back here and going to university and all this stuff. And I actually almost went to George Brown, I was applying to Chef schools around the world. And I got into the spear, vineyard chef school in Stellenbosch just outside of Cape Town. And I was so going to go there and I don't know why something called me back to Toronto to George Brown relatively, I mean, I don't mean to dis George Brown. But what is a far cry from like cooking Impala with, you know, ridiculously great wine from 1600s era, you know, old vines. But yeah, I came back here. And then, you know, I had worked in a few kitchens, and I decided that it's not the life for me, because I didn't see the creative control from the entry level. And that whole critique of like, the restaurant system and working our way up from line cook, you know, to Chef is, was a pain to me, I was like, rather just start a restaurant at some point. And then, you know, it's a bit bit too arduous for me, even though I mean mean chef, like I cook great stuff. But all that to say the Kenyan experience, you know, and then when I was there, even as a teen, I filmed some documentaries in various slums. And I saw this sort of duality of life in, you know, in these emerging market countries where you've got, you know, the richest of the rich just on the other side of the fence. Right. And this is like a Bombay thing as well. I used to do business in Bombay and shocking, shocking. realities with these are places with this kind of born culture, at least for the last, you know, I don't know, Kenya, it's a bit new. Slum life is new, but countries that might have 50 or 100 years to kind of grow into this reality. It's so weird to hear of the Ukrainian example being like, overnight, this kind of reality, hitting people and that they're getting normalized to the food scarcity to the being without access to opportunity immediately, to the pausing of life. You know, all this stuff and

Jagger Gordon 34:07
power and water. Yeah, the main essentials to life being eliminated. Right. Yeah. So thank you for sharing that. It's great that you have a little sheffey experience behind you in that lateral. Yeah, that's passion. Right. That's where I I ran with that passion because, you know, running through the kitchen hierarchy, like having that regime is what gave me the respect because as a military background, it gave me that ambition to get earn my rank. So for to say, and as working my way up from the dishwasher all the way to the top as an executive chef, calling myself creative or culinary artists now. The plates my canvas. Yeah. And having that opportunity just I can relate to every single person in this room because your pallets my business card. Yeah,

Qasim Virjee 34:57
not many people talk about this because there's been this like so sensationalization in the in the culinary world in the last 10 years with, or less called 20 years with the advent of Food TV, especially in North America, right. There's this this kind of like fetishization of the lifestyle with celebrity chefs in North America and the end, the end result rather than the process and the storytelling of the process of, of the lifestyle of providing food is not necessarily told in mass media that often not much. So it's really interesting, because for every foodie, I know, like people who consider themselves, you know, good cooks, I don't see the commitment to that craft, you know, that, that the professional work requires of you to grueling to work in a kitchen, and really is, can't to get past it, you have to learn so many things like and we deal with that here at Star well, where I look for this kind of experience hospitality experience amongst new hires, because you know that they're going to have a few different tricks up their sleeves, like mindfulness, working in a kitchen, I think, necessitates your ability to be mindful and stay present. And be aware, if you get a rush. And you're just zoning out, you can't get it out of the door. That's right, and you'll get sprayed from the dishwasher and someone will catch you on fire. And God knows what's going to happen to you. You always have to watch right? Yeah. So that there's that there's the ability to just work under stress as well. And now whether that's sustainable, and kitchens, and all this, all this stuff to do with the difficulties of you know, mental fatigue and all that. But, but working under stress, especially with your military background, or you know, the materials background training,

Jagger Gordon 36:46
you know, but that's where the strength in the strong will rise. And that's where Asus will come from, you know, right now I found it. So we have a kitchen called Blaze and kitchen. This is where most of our catering is coming out of here in Toronto, here in Toronto, we primarily do all film and television. So whatever, Sylvester Stallone, what might have had yesterday, would we produce the same meal for the person on the street. So the overtures are a zero waste facility. And this is where all most of my food comes from, for our, our meal plan programs. But what I'm getting at is the ones that prepare these meals, it's since COVID, it's really hard to get that shining ace or that person that wants to actually work. I mean, from the dishwasher, yes, you're going to be doing dishes, but when it comes to the ranks in the kitchen, like I said, nobody wants to get squirt by the dishwasher. Nobody wants to pick up, you know, a pair of tongs. If they're if they're using a knife, like there's nobody wants to work anymore. And it's really hurting the hospitality industry. And it's just really blowing myself away. Because back in the day, people were struggling wanting to get into a kitchen. Right?

Qasim Virjee 37:54
You like given your experience of stashing and going places and convincing people probably, I can let you pick the night I'm a

Jagger Gordon 38:00
nobody, right, right teach me. And that's where the inspiration came from me learning everything that I can and surpassing it. And that's where I tell my students and the people that work next to me alongside me, I want you to grow, I want you to be the best shining little star that you can. But yeah, it really throws me off to see how things have changed in the workforce. And it's unfortunate, even if you're paying them,

Qasim Virjee 38:27
right, even if it's a competitive wage. It's so interesting to hear your perspective on this because, you know, as part of our other series gathering, we've been talking to people from all different angles of supporting teams, some of them are professional recruiters from outside of organization. Some of them are internal recruiters, whether it's technical recruiters, recruiting engineers for a software company, or whether it's administration positions, any position of any salary and this is like I was until we kind of started this series. I hadn't myself done a survey of pay scales in Canada, you know, probably since 2000. I don't know when it was oh, is when I got married, I was looking for a job 2014 I was an entrepreneur. And then as like the startup I had was pretty cool as like a Netflix for India before Netflix was in India. And I built the whole thing went to Bombay to license films spent every last dime of my of my other money from my other ventures on it did a deal with Virgin so it was like there was all this like great stuff in that story. But it ultimately wasn't going anywhere. And I was getting married and I had no money in my pocket. And I was like I first time ever kind of I need a job you know, since my early culinary days. And and I got a job working for IBM, which was just like so the opposite of me in many ways. Very corporate job. But at that point when I was looking at other jobs, you know, it looked like the kind of glass ceiling in Canada not long ago, like 10 years ago, was like 120 grand 140 grand maybe if you're not a finance guy You know, you're making money off of money. But now it seems to have doubled, or more, right?

Jagger Gordon 40:08
It's shocking, less work and more money. And

Qasim Virjee 40:12
part of the things that I'm hearing from all of these, these recruiters and people that we're talking to on the gathering podcast is that even if the salaries are massive, and people are getting signing bonus bonuses, like they're gonna pay a recruiter three months of salary upfront, as a commission, the commission is based off of someone sticking around for six months in the job. So the recruiter is gonna make three months there also, so that the person the employer is gonna pay three months as a commission, and they're gonna place it there. Yeah. And, and even then, the person signing is looking, especially in engineering jobs in Canada, they're looking for bonuses, right. And a weird thing is that we're experiencing so many things, of course, with our labor market, but like, like for the software, guys, they're getting pushed by companies all around the world, because everyone's woken up to the reality that Canada has a good knowledge sector, employee base. So you have like all these recruiting companies that are across the country, but many in Toronto, that are being hired by US firms to hire Canadian talent, keep them here, they're working remotely. But then they're getting another three months of bonus upfront as a signing bonus. So people are, I think what I've been hearing is that the sub reality of the work versus the recompense, they don't add up. And it's so surreal to even the employees, that they're constantly now have a mindset that something better is around the corner. So even if they get a job, they get their bonus, they're getting paid a lot of money. They think that something was waiting for them somewhere. And then so then there's of course, you got the side hustle culture emerging. And we've got companies like great companies, but they're promoting it thinking that it's like an employee benefit to say, yeah, we'll we'll be cool with you doing something else on the side. And you know, I was talking to someone the other day, and I was like, on that podcast, and I was like, I wouldn't have time to do a side hustle. In fact, I had like three, four different businesses when I started start well, and I killed them. All right, I pulled the plug on a 60,000 subscriber podcast that I was running. For my record label Indian electronica, I killed the whole server, I let the domain name expire. I said goodbye to that. A big part of my life because I needed to

Jagger Gordon 42:27
focus. Congratulations. Thank you.

Qasim Virjee 42:31
And that idea of sacrifice in order to focus right, is maybe that's something that's like, people generally don't have. But

Jagger Gordon 42:40
yeah, it's learn from that, though. Right? Right. Especially if a story that you can share. Yeah.

Qasim Virjee 42:45
Oh, the many, many stories.

Jagger Gordon 42:47
As an entrepreneur, I can only imagine the sacrifices, you know, I was you triggered a point where discussing the food industry, and when it comes down to having brick and mortars and restaurants, you know, it's great that I can have my name on restaurants, it's great that you can have that store front, and rely on the foot traffic and your staffing and stuff. And in creating a menu that's subjected to what the liking of that audience would be, has thrown me off, because I felt that through that pandemic, through the pandemic, gave me a whole new way of looking at things because people want to enjoy the experience. And going into restaurants. I'm always disappointed. I'm the first guy that walks right into a kitchen and shakes whoever's in charge his hand and taking the call and say, give me your business card, put something on my plate recently come back and make something I can't make. Yeah, exactly. But what it's come down left my house for this? Well, yeah, and I'm going to be now dropping double the price. Yeah, right. If I'm going to be dropping to $300 a person, you know, but that's for some great wine or whatever it be, give me that whole experience. But now, I've changed my my model. So speaking of other jobs and side hustles, I created the catering agency where you have the chef's experience. So that come into your home and I now have an incredible partner, Rob Rainford, Chef, Rob Rainford, who's licensed to grill he's like this Food Network Star, okay. And we both have, we complement each other on two different aspects. And it's wonderful how we work together, but we're able to come into your home, give you that whole experience, bringing the molecular gastronomical techniques, bringing science to food giving you that whole culinary vision of how your food should be where it comes from and the story behind it. But that's what that's what's needed right now. People need to start exploring within themselves how to cook and I'm just bringing all this back into where we're at with this because people forget how to cook people rely on to everything's turn takeout delivery, takeout delivery, get back into the kitchen, start utilizing and learning where food comes from and how it's going to make your life and in happier now to be able to share that with your wife or whoever it is. Because cooking breaking bread at that table is where it all happens. Right and that to how we communicate, it's great that we can sit here solo listening and watching this podcast. But imagine being able to share that with so many other people. overbred breaking bread, I should say. But yeah, so the catering agency has been a really wonderful take off on to exposing our talents and sharing the the excitement through food again, because people have forgotten about it. Like, and I'm noticing all my restaurant tours and people that you're not well established already. You're not flipping those tables. You're relying on that little machine going off saying we have a takeout or we have a delivery waiting to be picked up.

Qasim Virjee 45:34
So there's two anecdotes, actually. And I, I was remiss to think, and I apologize to if they're listening. But I, there were two different podcast episodes that we did, actually, with food people that I forgot about in the beginning, when I said we haven't talked to any chefs. So till then, senator from the depth dinner, I apologize. That's great. And of course, to the guys from Askari, Eric and John, yeah, they were on the podcast a while ago. But the both of those are interesting kind of responses, like, like, lens whole thing. With the depth dinner was that it was it was like, he started as just to get people around food together. Right. And, and then, of course, things got difficult with his landlord. And there was some some issues to do with the space, the story, right. But also, I think, you know, leading into the pandemic, it probably was like a big prompt for him to kind of like take a pause and say, Hey, wait, it was it was time, right. And he wanted to write his book. And he wanted to take a pause from from all this stuff. And I know he's coming back strong. You know, I think he's in Kerala right now in Tamil Nadu or something. But I like the idea of getting people around the table. And unfortunately, the individuality and individualism of the pandemic, you know, I think, kind of for some people, kind of push them into a more insular lifestyle, you know, and away from that, like, common table familiar kind of vibe. But for a lot of people, I think there's a renewed interest in like family style and sharing in dinner parties. There is right. And you're probably seeing that with this catering thing. Is my eyes wide open. Yeah. And people are probably like, like, teach me like part of it is like cook for me. Yeah. But the other is teach me I want to, we can watch TV and try and copy a recipe. But you being here is like leveling us up. Yeah. That's

Jagger Gordon 47:22
pretty amazing. It really excites me too, especially when you get the youth when you get the youth sitting in front of you. And that just really inspired to give them that little technique. You give them the job and there, which was technically not supposed to be engaging. But now they're all involved. And now they always want to say well, what's next and that's where recipes that are developed. One

Qasim Virjee 47:41
of the cool things that came into the pandemic two on the Askari tip. And we actually I worked with them, Eric and John on this was early on in the pandemic, they realized that like they were feeling there, they were really sad that like the restaurants, the rooms were closed. Yeah. They're really sad because they everyone in the business knows it's about the experience, right? You really want people that the dean of the room and you read the energy of the people as they're eating, and you feel great from that. And you know that you've done a good job. And they're having fun, they missed that. And so, very early, they started they're like dinner kids. So they were kind of like, I think they tried two different models. One was ingredients with the recipe, and the other one was pretty much a pre cooked or ready to reassemble kind of meal. Maybe you do one two things like bake the bread, but the curry is made. And we worked with them on a couple of videos that were instructional videos. And what I found which was really interesting is that the people who watch the videos were more into the videos than then assembling the thing. They were like so engaged with the chef showing them how to put it together that they didn't want to watch and do it or do it after watching it watching. It was enough. Yeah. So that was kind of scary to me because it kind of harkens on this like food as entertainment versus food as an experience thing. And again, it might just be an output of like food, TV Food Network, whatever sensationalizing

Jagger Gordon 49:10
that's another thing is about Food Network and what's out there in the food world. It seems to be this repetitive what's safe to put on to screen and that's where it's blowing my mind because right now I'm in front of all the networks I I attend real screen. And I pitch all these great shows these concepts, especially Food Rescue Hero traveling around the world, and being able to support and create meals for people that are in devastation or that are in need. And it's really hard for networks to say Oh, while we're it's a really edgy, you know, it's we're so used to everyone watching what competition shows. Yeah, they're

Qasim Virjee 49:47
like Anthony Bourdain is dead man. But that's that's the history.

Jagger Gordon 49:51
That's that's the part of a chef's life that's what that's what's entertaining. Oh, total, right. So

Qasim Virjee 49:56
make it to YouTube. Take it to YouTube.

Jagger Gordon 49:59
So I've been told Well,

Qasim Virjee 50:00
no, honestly, it's it's a tricky thing because like, Yeah, you don't want to have to do everything, then that's what the value of the network is, is support, you know, the creative process with the production and the distribution. Yeah. But yeah, I'm seeing so much amazing, great content being self produced because of the same frustration every industry. And YouTube is about is going through this transition in terms of its user base. And its global reach now, like, what's interesting is, you know, the vlogger culture was started kind of around like New York. And it was, it was, let's call it I don't know, what, 678 years ago, a lot of people doing like self, you know, selfie videos, essentially, sharing their day on camera. And then that spread a little bit throughout North America. A lot of it was around this, like consumer culture. So people reviewing doing unboxing videos reviewing their, their tech that they want for their whatever projects. And people watching that, because they're thinking of buying the same thing. And then it's spread and YouTube right now the biggest YouTube user bases in India. And not just passive user base, but active user base, like the number of people who are actively vlogging. And creating content as serialized content to publish on India, in India is the largest in the whole world never knew. And their audiences. Well, of course. So it's very interesting to watch this because it's kind of like, a lot of these people are growing up with YouTube as their TV because there was no terrestrial TV network. That's right in India. Well, there was but it was like three channels, a UTV, who we used to work with, for my my good film, the startup, the Netflix of India. UTV, which got bought by Disney was like channel two. And there was like four channels, you know, eventually one of them was a state channel, and you could only get it in like one state or something, right. So it's an interesting time, I think, to share these stories online. Especially because you've got that global reach. And I think the message is global.

Jagger Gordon 52:04
It's really interesting that you're sharing that with me, thank you. Because, again, as we bring this together, I am a one man show thinking of ideas. I film everything I pretty much do for my own vlogging aspects, but I never put it on to a publisher. No, not really. I mean, someone who's on my, you know, my Instagram chef Jarrod Gordon and I get it gets out there snippets of it. But the idea of sharing our real messages and sticking to that message is what's key. So something right and learn from it. And I will be asking questions.

Qasim Virjee 52:35
For sure. We'll help you with that. was awesome spending some time chatting? Appreciate you, I think. I think we should definitely do a follow up session and do like roundtables. And if you're up for participating in soy stuff, there's a pleasure man. Yeah, they can we'll have you in to do some food stuff at start. Well, I think

Jagger Gordon 52:52
the sky's the limit. And it really is like there's no limitation here. It's just all a matter how far we can take our minds together. Yeah.

Meeting room rentals at StartWell in Toronto

Book any of our meeting rooms or venues on-demand for small or large company gatherings. We include presentation technology with complimentary barista service and a great vibe that your team will love.

1 of 12