There are few pastry chefs in the Alberta restaurant scene as busy as Calgary’s Katelin Bland. Between conjuring up dessert ideas, managing the pastry programs at two of the city’s most buzzworthy restaurants (Bridgette Bar and Lulu Bar) and working with eager interns to help foster up-and-coming talent, it’s rare for the chef to get much downtime.
But when she does, she makes the most of it for a good cause.
At this time of year, Ms. Bland becomes happily hands-on with setting up a large harvest dinner for elementary-school students. The meal is just one piece of Seeds of Kindness, an annual program Ms. Bland has been a part of since 2015. The program, which works with Calgary’s Haysboro School and its Dream Catcher garden, was initiated by the late chef Jonathan Sobol, Ken Wright from Bow Point Nursery, Arden Nering from Wild About Flowers and Indigenous elders. It helps the school’s Grade 5 and 6 students better connect with the Earth and the ingredients it can offer us.
“It serves as a wonderful example of how a school, the local community and community partners such as the late chef Jonathan Sobol and currently chef Katelin Bland ... and our Indigenous elders can support enriching and authentic learning experiences connected to curriculum for our students,” Haysboro School principal Angela McPhee says.
Beginning in the spring, Ms. Bland works alongside teachers, students and volunteers to plant seeds in the expansive on-site gardens. From there, a garden club made up of volunteers monitors the space until the bounty is ready in the fall, when the chef and students prepare the feast for the two grades to enjoy.
“I get to see them all open their minds to the idea that their food actually does comes from the ground and not just from a grocery store,” the chef says.
Ms. Bland continues to stress the importance of younger generations understanding more about the food they eat. She explains that it was her mother’s love of cooking when she was young that made her decide to seek out a career in the culinary industry after high school.
While enrolled in the Professional Cooking Program at Southern Institute of Technology (SAIT), the chef says she developed a true love of baking and pastry-making. After completing her cooking diploma in 2007, Ms. Bland re-enrolled at SAIT for the Baking and Pastry Arts Program. Two years later, she graduated once again at the top of her class.
At 21, she took on the role of executive pastry chef at The Ranchmen’s Club of Calgary before spending time working in Vancouver and returning then to Calgary in 2015 to work at the Fairmont Palliser.
This would be the year that she reconnected with the late Mr. Sobol. At the time, he was working as the executive chef of Starbelly, as well as on the Seeds of Kindness program with Haysboro which Ms. Bland quickly embraced. When the chef passed away tragically in a car accident in 2016, Ms. Bland says it was important for her to carry on his legacy.
“I didn’t want that message and that passion to be lost or forgotten about. For me, it keeps a piece of him and his memory alive. Even if these kids don’t remember his name – or even mine – if they remember that message and think about where their food comes from, cook at home more, or plant a garden of their own, then he continues to live on through one of the things that he was passionate about," she says.
Ms. McPhee adds that the program Mr. Sobol initiated and Ms. Bland’s continued work with the children is invaluable. Allowing the students to be so hands-on with their food from start to finish sparks many conversations.
After spending time working with some of the school’s young student body for the past four years, the chef says the part they get most excited for is the fact that they get to prepare dishes using the ingredients they brought from “seed to table,” as she likes to put it.
“I believe that in a world where fast food is more easily accessible than fresh produce, [Mr. Sobol’s] message was incredibly important,” Ms. Bland says. “Jon believed so strongly in knowing exactly where your product is coming from, and that’s why he loved teaching the kids at Haysboro and why I continue to.”
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