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Food artisans strive to revive livelihoods after fire

Vancouver chef Enrick Gagnon drew a steady stream of customers with his traditional French-Canadian holiday foods at the Nat Bailey…

By Chelsea Novak , in , on November 20, 2013 Tags:

Chef Enrick
Chef Enrick Gagnon sells his traditional French-Canadian foods at the Yaletown farmers market.

Vancouver chef Enrick Gagnon drew a steady stream of customers with his traditional French-Canadian holiday foods at the Nat Bailey Stadium winter farmers market.

It was the second opportunity he had to sell his tourtières and pastries since a fire gutted his prep kitchen at the Woodland Smoke House and Commissary on Commercial Drive in early November.

The Vancouver tourtière chef, who had been in business only a year, lost all of his inventory and equipment. That meant having to bake around the clock in a Surrey kitchen to get ready for the city’s pre-holiday food markets.

“We’re back, so that’s good. We’ll get back on our feet,” said Gagnon, who was among 20 food company owners affected by the fire. Officials ruled the fire accidental and the cause electrical.

Holidays cancelled

But Gagnon is one of the lucky ones. He’s back in business and sales are strong. Other businesses who share space at the commissary face much more significant setbacks.

Tyson Reimer and Ryan Murfitt, the owners of Woodland and Gastown restaurant Peckinpah, are still waiting to find out if they’ll be able to rebuild their offsite prep kitchen or if they’ll have to find a new location. In the meantime, they won’t be offering their smoked holiday turkeys, cranberry sauces or stuffing this year.

“That was becoming kind of a popular thing around Vancouver,” said Liam McDermott, the operations manager of Peckinpah and Woodland, referring to the smoked turkey. “I think that’s one thing people are gonna really miss this holiday.”

Listen: McDermott on why Woodland was unique (1’06”)

The turkeys were sold through Woodland’s deli, along with other take-home foods and ready-to-eat sandwiches and wraps, which customers would buy for lunch.

Yaletown Farmers Market
The Yaletown farmers market is one of two winter markets where Gagnon sells his pies.

“I’m just really sad that it’s gone. I really hope they reopen it at the same location. I mean, it’s pretty much the only restaurant on this end of the Drive,” said Andrew Beck, a Woodland customer since March.

While Peckinpah regulars at least still have the Gastown restaurant to go to, they’ll also be missing some favourite menu items.

Because the prep kitchen was destroyed, there isn’t space to make complicated dishes like the spicy pork sausages and southern greens.

“We just simply don’t have the capacity to produce everything on the menu, in the volumes we have,” said McDermott.

With production on hold until a new facility can be built, Woodland’s expanding business ventures are also stalled.

Deals were in the works to produce foods for Whole Foods Market and Choices Markets and to distribute through SPUD, an organic-foods distributor. There was also talk of starting a meal program for people living in Downtown Eastside residential hotels, similar to the one Mark Brand of Save On Meats is running.

“That’s a disappointment, because even though we really hadn’t gotten anywhere […] we really thought we saw the potential to get involved with that, which is such an amazing community project,” said McDermott.

Soldiering on

For Gagnon, the priority is getting through the holidays.

Chef Gagnon's creamy maple pies
Gagnon sells creamy maple pies, a traditional French-Canadian dessert, and meat pies.

“Right now, I want to focus on what people are really more used to at Christmastime, which is the tourtières and the sugar pie,” he said.

To do that, Gagnon has rented the kitchen space in Surrey and started rebuilding his product line.

At the market, he offered customers samples of his creamy maple pie, a traditional French-Canadian dessert, and jars of his fruit ketchup, which survived the fire.

“Some jars fortunately were still sitting in my van when the fire happened. So those are troopers there,” said Gagnon, gesturing to his ketchups.