Jean-François is combating hunger and introducing healthy eating by substantially modifying the food consumption chain. He is identifying and empowering the most critical key players, chefs, to become leaders in food redistribution and in educating children and youth in healthy cooking. As a result, and through his innovative logistics system, huge quantities of previously wasted food are now distributed efficiently to under served populations. Moreover, Jean-François is modifying the educational system to empower youth to adopt healthy and affordable food preparation habits. Within the next five years, he plans to have expanded his work to other major Canadian cities through partnerships with culinary schools and provincial ministries of education.
The New Idea
Jean-François is fighting hunger and nutritional deficiencies by creating avenues for chefs to address social and environmental issues in their work. Chefs have the ability to increase the culinary opportunities of at-risk populations and decrease the number of people going hungry by linking the food industry to food banks, citizen organizations (COs) and their constituencies. Jean-François created La Tablée des Chefs (Band of Chefs) in 2004 to engage chefs in this process and to encourage their sense of social responsibility. Band of Chefs is transforming the food production and redistribution cycles to increase food security among low-income populations. Band of Chefs provides access to high-quality food and educates marginalized youth about cooking and nutrition, so they may cook healthy food for themselves.
Jean-François is leveraging chefs’ abilities to engage caterers, restaurants, and hotel owners, turning them into allies to address food waste problems within the food service industry, while also responding to the nutritional needs of underserved populations. Through his organization, Jean-François is transforming the way chefs lead the food management process (preparation, storage, and processing) to help reduce food waste and to redistribute high-quality leftovers to food banks and shelters. By addressing both the issues of social responsibility and environmental sustainability, Jean-François is making the food industry in Canada more sustainable.
Jean-François also engages chefs as educators, who transfer their cooking and nutritional knowledge to food banks, CO leaders, and marginalized youth and families through workshops and summer camps. The chefs teach them to enjoy the art of cooking and to cook healthy and sophisticated meals on a limited budget. Chefs are also helping institutions such as youth centers and school boards to integrate culinary knowledge in their curricula. Meanwhile, young people are becoming the champions of better eating habits among their families.
Jean-François works in the Province of Quebec and plans to expand Band of Chefs to other major Canadian cities through partnerships with culinary schools and national food service organizations. He is also discussing with government agencies how to integrate his vision for food security in school curricula and more broadly in Canadian society.
Food scarcity and poor food quality are real and tangible problems experienced throughout the world, even in industrialized countries. In Canada there are 250 food banks serving approximately 90 percent of the people who access emergency food programs nationwide. The number of Canadians who depend on food assistance more than doubled between 1989 and 2003 and continues to increase. In 2008, nearly 4 percent of Quebecers (300,000 people) needed assistance from food banks. Paradoxically, Canada is not suffering from a food shortage. For financial reasons, many low- income families do not have access to enough quality food, causing them to purchase unhealthy processed foods and develop nutritional deficiencies and other health related complications. These financial difficulties are compounded by the fact that families may not take the time to cook and prepare healthy meals. Therefore, young people may not have role models to teach them easy, healthy cooking skills; perpetuating this problem generationally.
To the contrary, large quantities of food are thrown away every day by catering companies, restaurants, and hotels. The possibility of donating this food it is rarely considered for fear of legal action, should a rare case of food poisoning occur. Moreover, the logistics of connecting prepared food to those who need it, including fast distribution of perishable foods, is poorly organized or nonexistent in some regions. Meanwhile, food banks are in need of high-quality food for their underserved clients but they struggle to maintain a sufficient supply and often must purchase food or reduce the rations they distribute.
Traditionally, families and schools have been key actors in transferring cooking knowledge and skills to children. However, in recent decades, families have relied increasingly on prepared meals, and schools have eliminated teaching cooking skills courses. The federal and provincial governments of Canada cut these courses from the curriculum. As a result, fast food and junk food consumption, obesity, and other health problems related to poor food habits are increasing.
Chefs, cooks, caterers, restaurant owners, the food industry’s key actors, acknowledge these problems and would like to contribute to a better system. However, their options rarely address the issues in a systemic manner. Before Jean-François began his initiative only sporadic or local actions existed. These temporary solutions lack the logistical processes to collect and redistribute perishable food items
During his ten-year career in the hotel management industry, Jean-François was astonished by the amount of food unused by chefs and restaurants. This presented a paradoxical situation: Professionals who love food and prepare it, do not have all of it eaten. Jean-François was convinced that there was a constructive method to reduce waste and redistribute the food surplus among those who most need it. Since no organization in the Province of Quebec was dedicated to addressing these pressing social issues, he created Band of Chefs in 2004; to fight hunger and influence the food industry to become more environmentally and socially responsible. Band of Chefs is leveraging the knowledge and leadership of chefs as central change agents to transform food production and distribution cycles.
Before Jean-François could even begin to think about food redistribution he had to address food professional’s fear of being sued for potential food poisoning as a result of meal donations. Therefore, he worked with a lawyer to understand the legal context. Jean-François found that the Good Samaritan law could be applied to protect those who choose to aid others with issues related to essential needs (e.g. food, shelter, clothing, and health care) from liability. Equipped with a strong legal argument, Jean-François convinced food providers. Previously, restaurant owners afraid of making the front page news as a result of a food poisoning “scandal” are now afraid of being judged by mainstream society for refusing to donate excess food. Jean-François has successfully begun to reverse restaurant owner’s beliefs about donating food.
To supply large amount of foods to underserved populations and reduce waste as quickly as possible, Jean-François began by partnering with catering companies at the Bell Centre and Montreal Science Centre, organizations that would set an example for others. In 2008, the Bell Centre alone delivered 50,000 meals per year. Through these early partnerships, he was able to systematize the food retrieval process and leverage the funds to invest in Band of Chefs infrastructure.
After convincing big event organizers, Jean-François targeted many more institutions. He reached out to hotels and restaurants. He designed an easy to use, multi-step model that engages and trains chefs to reuse leftovers, label meals according to their ingredients, and pack them for distribution to the appropriate organizations. By engaging hotels, caterers, and large institutions, such as Desjardins (the largest banking cooperative in Canada), Jean François instituted a system of food recuperation after events. This system is managed through a database that lists information about future events (location, amount of food to be expected, type of meals, and so on), handles the logistics of the food recovery process, and stores data on local needs to efficiently distribute the food where it is most needed. This database will greatly facilitate Band of Chefs expansion throughout Canada, and will allow all food banks to know when and where local restaurants and caterers will be able to provide meals for their beneficiaries.
With this model, Jean-François is transforming sporadic food donations from chefs, restaurants, and hotels into a systematized process and creating a movement of social chefs. To reach out to the maximum number of chefs, he is building partnerships with six associations of chefs in the industry in Quebec. Jean-François is also reaching out to associations in Canada and France. By 2009, five years after the launch of Band of Chefs, Jean-François was working with 50 chefs, 400 student chefs, 12 hotels, one athletic center, three banquet halls, and five restaurants. He expects to reach 5,000 chefs by 2012. Each year, 200,000 meals are distributed to local food banks in Quebec, thus responding to 30 percent of the need for food donations in the province’s 17 food banks. By the end of 2009, Band of Chefs was operating in eight regions of Quebec and 16 regions by the end of 2010.
After establishing successful partnerships with chefs, Jean-François decided to address the root causes of poor nutrition by targeting youth at risk in their neighborhoods. He was determined to reintroduce “culinary autonomy” education in a fun and practical way. Jean-François created a specific program for at-risk youth to learn the basics of food preparation. Operating on a small budget, chef’s teach abandoned and abused young people as well as juveniles living in secured youth facilities how to prepare high-quality meals. Those without families often go back to become equipped with the cooking skills and financial literacy they need to be self-sufficient once they are on their own. In the fall of 2009, Jean-François was working with eight youth facilities. He aims to reach out to all of Quebec’s 16 youth facilities by 2012.
Jean-François has also instituted summer camps for marginalized youth. At these camps, role models (e.g. athletes, actors, and musicians) are invited to make cooking easy and fun. In 2009 Jean-François signed a five-year agreement with a national corporation (Canadian Tire) to work with their four one-week camps. Each year almost 500 children participate. Jean-François also offers similar cooking classes in high schools (2 hours/day for 24 weeks) and is collaborating with the government to develop a curriculum for high school cooking classes. By 2009, Jean-François was working with six high schools and training new chefs in culinary schools to integrate eco-social issues into their activities; 400 students participate in these trainings yearly.
Jean-François ensures his organization’s sustainability through fundraising from foundations, income-generation from the sale of books, recipes, and cooking classes for adults, in-kind donations from stores for utensils, appliances, and other furniture, and through individual donations and memberships. He has raised CAD$500,000 (US$483,600) in food and in-kind donations. His partnership with Canadian Tire is particularly interesting: The in-kind donations (e.g. food, kitchen help, and so on) Jean-François brought to the camp in 2009 resulted in a substantial savings of CAD$30,000 for the corporation. This money was leveraged and reinvested in additional activities organized by Band of Chefs. Jean-François is also developing a fiscal strategy to enable enterprises that donate food surpluses to get an income tax return which they can then donate back to Band of Chefs. In 2010 Jean-François expects to leverage CAD$500,000 through this fiscal strategy.
In order to affect policy change around food distribution and education, Jean-François is heavily involved with stakeholders in the Ministry of Education and Members of Parliament. He also targeted mass media to disseminate information on Band of Chefs’ activities and promotes corporate social responsibility in the food service industry and the general population. Jean-François aims to spread his model, which is already being tested in France, to other provinces in Canada by partnering with future chefs in culinary schools.
From an early age, Jean-François has been involved in community work. His father founded the Optimist Club, where Jean-François was an active member from the beginning. Encouraged by his parents, he participated in various food and clothing drives as a child and raised money to buy and prepare Christmas meals for low-income families. During childhood, Jean François learned that many impoverished families often go without food and that sharing can help to alleviate others’ suffering. His mother was also involved in social change and funded an organization dedicated to help families cope with illness. When she died after a long battle with cancer, Jean-François decided to dedicate himself full-time to social change.
Jean-François worked for ten years in the hotel management industry. He was very successful and rising quickly up the professional ladder when he decided to leave his job to work full-time on Band of Chefs in 2004. During his time in hotel management, Jean-François acquired a great understanding of the food service industry as well as valuable business and managerial skills.
Jean-François has always been passionate about food and enjoys visiting chefs in their kitchens. He has witnessed how generous chefs can be, and when Normand Laprise (the head chef at Toqué, the most famous restaurant in Quebec) agreed to support his work, he knew his idea would succeed.
In recent years, Jean-François has been increasingly recognized for his social innovation and entrepreneurship. He is a winner of the Arista Young Socially Responsible Business Leader in Quebec, and was nominated Personality of the Year by La Presse and Radio-Canada. Jean-François was also elected as Toque Blanche for underserved neighborhoods by the magazine Les Affaires.
Jean-François’ Sustainable Food Recovery Program was awarded a PHENIX, the highest recognition for environmental programs by the Minister of Environment in 2010. Jean-François was placed on the list of “AUDACIEUX” for 2010 by Commerce Magazine and Band of Chefs are finalists for the “Prix de l’entreprise citoyenne du Québec 2010” by L’actualité and Korn/ Ferry.