Posts Tagged: DTES

Jul 13

East of Main Cafe: Food with a heart and soul

Food production has such a ‘butterfly effect’ on the world; grow fruit and veg with pesticides and you affect the eco-system, grow them with the wrong kind and you affect the life of bees, which affects every one of us. Get those chemicals in the food chain and water supply and it can have a serious affect on health and fertility – a butterfly flaps its wings and half a world away, everything changes… 

I was thinking about how small things can have a huge effect as I listened to 12-year old Celestine Hilechi, singing her heart out for us at the Project Limelight event at the East of Main Cafe. She was fantastic, eyes lit up with pure joy, she radiated happiness and a dash of star quality and thanks to the Project Limelight programme, she’s learning how to express that and now has the confidence to sing – unaccompanied no less – to a room of strangers.

Project Limelight's songbird, the fantastic Celestine

Project Limelight’s songbird, the fantastic Celestine

To put this into a little context, I should explain a little; walking through parts of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) always feels like a shock; there are serious homelessness and substance abuse and addiction issues, whole blocks are taken up with shopping cart-pushing addicts. I say again – after the beauty of the surrounding area, the pure gorgeousness of Vancouver as a city – the grinding poverty of the DTES is a nasty shock. It’s an area that needs help and needs support and there are businesses who are taking up the challenge.

Project Limelight is a charity founded by sisters Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver, both born and raised in the DTES with successful careers in the film business (respectively as a casting director and owner and manager of a studio) who wanted to give back to their community. Project Limelight works with at-risk kids aged between 8-15 in the neighbourhood – children who typically wouldn’t get within shouting distance of creative theatre work – and pulls them into a hard-working, fiercely disciplined programme. Each session lasts for four months running three days a week. At the end of the four months the children perform an impressively professional full-length production which lets them show off the skills they’ve learned.

Project Limelight's Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver with Chef Tina Fineza

Project Limelight’s Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver with Chef Tina Fineza

I must admit – I was a theatre group kid – I loved the fun, the sense of community and the freedom of expression that it taught me. I made great friends and learned about the importance of showing up and doing your absolute best. But I was lucky – I had a stable family life, having that three-days-a-week rock of normality (plus a free healthy meals and snacks) must mean the world to some of those children. And you can imagine the immense effect that four months of positive attention can have – when this butterfly flaps its wings it changes the whole direction that a child’s life can go in.

They rehearse upstairs from the East of Main cafe where 100% of their profits go towards the Project Limelight Society. That’s reason alone to go there – but of course, because it’s Vancouver, food with a heart has a soul too. Talented Chef Tina Fineza has designed a  pan-Mediterranean tapas-style sharing plates menu, packed with fresh and spicy flavours, taking a delicious journey across the world wherever it touches the Med. Hop from a ras el hanout-spiced lamb tagine from Tunisia to an aromatic aubergine (eggplant) Greek moussaka to (my favourite) an Italian raw courgette fragrant with lemon with a faint crunch of pistachio.

Simple and just delicious

Simple and just delicious

It’s a perfect storm of good intentions resulting in great things; an excellent menu in a cute venue, where your money goes directly to helping out a brilliant cause, which then affects the lives of those around you. This butterfly’s wings are certainly flapping in the right direction. Go join in and flap yours too.

Find out more: 

East of Main cafe

Address: 223 E Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6A 2Z9

Phone:(604) 899-2777

Mar 13

The story of Maggie, her doorway and Rainier Provisions

Pantry full of treats to take home

Pantry full of treats to take home

I heard something over lunch yesterday that made me tear-up over my roast beef sandwich. I was at Rainier Provisions, checking out Sean Heather’s latest Gastown foodie-magnet. Gastown is a tricky district to define. On the one hand it’s Vancouver’s oldest and most tourist-friendly; home to the ‘Gassy Jack’ statue, the singing Steam Clock, cobbled streets and twinkly fairy-lit trees. There are more hipster joints here than you can kick a hackysack at. It’s also home to the Downtown Eastside, where you’ll find more crushing poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and downright misery than any other area I’ve encountered in Vancouver. These two extremes live uneasily side by side. Occasionally, as with newcomer Pidgin, things break out and get weird.

I get it. Gentrification brings its problems between the haves and have-nots but I have to wonder – what would you rather? If it’s a choice between an empty building and no jobs, or a buzzing establishment that makes a conscious effort to give back to the local neighbourhood, well, it feels like a no-brainer to me.

Large room which can be hired for parties

Large room which can be hired for parties

Sean’s been in Gastown for almost two decades. He’s got a solid record of giving back and getting along with his neighbours. Rainier Provisions is next to the Rainier Hotel, a women’s single-room occupancy hotel, which just had a block of federal funding removed. Thanks to Sean, residents get fed, for free, once a week and a similar meals programme has been in place for years at another of his places, The Irish Heather. I got all mascara-smudged yesterday because I was told about Maggie, a lady who’d lived in the front door of the previously-disused building for three years. When Rainier Provisions was being constructed, instead of evicting Maggie from her doorstep home, it was decided instead to give her some security. So they frosted windows on three sides of one of the unused doorways, added a combination lock on the gate and now Maggie has a place to leave her things where she can come and go as she pleases. She says she feels safer now.

That’s what made me cry. So yes, while many talk up a storm about what gentrification may or may not mean for an area and those who are less well-off, I put all my support behind a company that pays more than lip-service to the idea that we all deserve a place in our community and a damn good meal too.

The food? It was perfect.

The food? It was perfect.

Oh – the food? Hey, it’s Sean Heather – a by-word for excellence – small producers, local suppliers trying to get along with their foodie dreams, so on the menu, great sandwiches, a daily roast (a huge plateful for as little as $8) and jaw-clangingly great ice cream from Vancouver’s finest, Earnest Ice Cream.

Love at first lick with their salt-caramel

Love at first lick with their salt-caramel

Pop in for a meal, or to stock up on deli items like East Vancouver’s Moccia Urbani, D-Original Sauage Company, Germany’s Drews Driessen, and England’s Neal’s Yard Dairy. Take an empty bottle to fill up on peppery olive oil and choose a treat from the towering pantry shelves. And say hi to Maggie if she’s home.

I ate here as a guest of Rainier Provisions. As ever – my views are 100% my own.

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