Hospitality Heroes: J.F. Archambault, La Tablée des Chefs

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When the hospitality industry became one of the biggest casualties of the global COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, it left a huge surplus of food with no home. “The hospitality industry was hit so fast that we needed first to recover a lot of food from closing establishments to direct towards food,” explains Jean-Francois Archambault, founder and director of the Montreal-based La Tablée des Chefs, a non-profit group focused on food-recovery programs as a way to feed those in need.

But it didn’t stop there, says the tireless industry advocate. “Our school program, Kitchen Brigades, also had to stop because [the government] closed down the schools, so we needed to go virtual and try to reach kids in a different way,” he explains. “We also realized a lot of people would not receive the food they needed because of a shortage of volunteers in the community, mainly because of confinement.”

Undaunted by the massive challenges, Archambault quickly pivoted. “We got our chefs involved in cooking for the community,” and launched Solidarity Kitchens, a food-prep initiative boasting more than 70 kitchens that prepped the meals and created more than two -million meals for the community in Quebec and other large Canadian cities — mainly Vancouver and Toronto. “We got the chefs back in their kitchens and more than 600 tons of food donated in order to prep these meals and distribute them to food banks. It was massive; [we did] all that in five months,” boasts the father of twins. And, he launched a virtual Kitchen Brigades Workshop in order to reach teenagers at home.

With razor-sharp focus, La Tablée des Chefs linked itself with the Food Security emergency committee and the Association of Food Banks in Quebec and also drew support from Vancouver and Toronto through Second Harvest. “We worked with the Minister of Agriculture in Quebec and Agriculture Canada to seek guidance and [to receive] funds out of emergency grants.
“We were able to get the whole industry mobilized and our team was at the heart of it, but we involved chefs, cooks, distributors, wholesalers, producers, food processors, farmers, food retailers, cold-storage-warehouse companies and transportation companies, hotels, restaurants and catering agencies — the entire foodservice industry.”

Like every other business, the La Tablée des Chefs had its own financial challenges to deal with through the lingering pandemic, but Archambault didn’t let that deter him. For the passionate chef-trained advocate, it’s always been about giving back — a tenet that fuelled him to found La Tablée des Chefs in 2003, long before the topic of food waste was on anyone’s radar. Since then, his organization has helped distribute and feed more than three-million meals, primarily through food-recovery efforts at some of the industry’s largest restaurants, hotels, sports arenas (including the Bell Centre and the Scotiabank Arena) and hospitals. In the process, he and his team have rescued food that would normally get thrown out and re-distributed it to those in need. He’s also developed culinary-education programs for more than 30,000 young people. And, equally as important in the process, the group has diverted 750 tons of uneaten food from landfills.

“We’re always focused on the impact we can have and our mission to help. We thought the need would be greater [this time around], but the way we would be able to provide help was somewhat different because of the context.”

Now, nine months after COVID-19 first blindsided the world, the health crisis continues to impact the community and businesses alike, which means much work still needs to be done. “We already know the need will be greater for at least 12 to 18 months, so are planning Phase 2 of the Solidarity Kitchens to produce another two-million meals to provide to food banks across Canada and mainly in Quebec. We’re also working on our virtual content to get teenagers active in the kitchens at home.” 
For Archambault, it’s all in a day’s work.

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Rosanna Caira
Rosanna Caira is the editor and publisher of Kostuch Media’s Foodservice and Hospitality, and Hotelier magazines. In her capacity as editor of Canada’s two leading hospitality publications, Rosanna directs the editorial and graphic content of both publications, and is responsible for the editorial vision of the magazines, its five websites as well as the varied tertiary products including e-newsletters, supplements and special projects. In addition to her editorial duties, Rosanna also serves as publisher of the company, directing the strategic development of the Sales and Marketing, Production and Circulation departments. Rosanna is the face of the magazines, representing the publications at industry functions and speaking engagements. She serves on various committees and Boards, including the Board of Directors of the Canadian Hospitality Foundation. She is a recipient of the Ontario Hostelry’s Gold Award in the media category. In 2006, Rosanna was voted one of the 32 most successful women of Italian heritage in Canada. Rosanna is a graduate of Toronto’s York University, where she obtained a BA degree in English literature.

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