Cooks Camp Insights 2021

May 6, 2023 by Ben Liegey

On Sept 15th 2021, Rethink2gether attended the Cooks Camp 2021. It was a three-hour long online event which featured a number of well-known figures in the Vancouver restaurant industry giving talks on topics ranging from mental health supports for industry employees, sustainable business development, social media management, and book publishing. It is organised by the Chefs’ Table Society of British Columbia, which is a membership-based organisation of chefs who seek to create a safe and productive environment for members of the food industry, where they are seasoned chefs or people fresh out of culinary school. 

Cooks Camp is an event geared towards professionals of the Vancouver restaurant industry to come together and share their ideas, discuss industry developments and trends, and create connections in a difficult industry to break into — and an even harder one to succeed in. Another goal of this event is to raise funds to build Canada’s first culinary library, a space which would allow chefs to come together and improve their culinary skills. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but next year’s event is expected to be held in person. It will be a weekend-long event held at North Arm Farm, a picturesque setting for the various cooking workshops and professional development events that are planned. 

This year’s event was co-hosted by Robert Belcham and Mijune Pak. Belcham is a pillar of the Vancouver food scene, having opened his first restaurant in the city in 2006. He now owns multiple properties, including the well-known Popina Cantina located on Granville Island. He is committed to bettering the restaurant industry by promoting collaboration and the sharing of culinary knowledge so that everyone can benefit. Mijune Pak is a rising figure in the Canadian food industry. She started her career as a food blogger, and quickly found her readership growing enormously. Despite her humble beginnings, she is now a judge on Top Chef Canada, one of the largest competitive cooking shows in the country. Her brand is only continuing to grow, as she recently partnered with the company Buttermere Patisserie to design a collection of French confection cookware. 

The presentations and talks that made up the bulk of the content at Cooks Camp were varied and very interesting. The restaurant industry is famously cutthroat and operates on the tightest of margins, so the growth of an event built entirely on collaboration and supporting fellow industry members is a welcome change to restaurant culture. Chef Johnny Bridge, the first speaker, made it a point to emphasise the importance of mental health and taking care of yourself by sharing an app built specifically for restaurant industry members that connects them with mental health resources should they require any. Calen McNeil, the owner of several well known Victoria restaurants, spoke about how to build a business with the goal of environmental sustainability in mind. Julie van Rosendaal and Robert McCullough are a pair of publishers who work at Random House and gave a talk on how cookbooks are being developed and published these days. Robert Clark, one of the chef’s who spearheaded a movement to boost sustainable-seafood dining in Vancouver, discussed the importance of finding a mentor in the industry for those who are trying to break into restaurant work. 

As you can tell, there was a wide variety of very interesting topics. Participants were encouraged to engage with presenters via the chat and Q&A functions of the Zoom call, which helped to create a conversational dynamic. We would highly recommend this event to anyone who is either a part of or interested in joining the restaurant industry — especially because next year’s event sounds like an absolute blast! Here is the link to register for Cooks Camp 2022.

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