A growing group of women are cooking up something profitable in Toronto's largest community housing project, and 2015 could be their biggest year yet.
The Regent Park Catering Collective is made up of about fifty women, mostly new Canadians and stay-at-home moms, who serve homemade meals at large events. The food is often inspired by the flavours and techniques of the countries of their birth and would be otherwise hard to find, even among the diverse offerings of Toronto's restaurant scene.
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The response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
"The feedback they are getting, what they are making — it is awesome. People love the food," says Sureya Ibrahim, a community organizer who has helped the program develop since its inception.
It all started in late 2013, a when a community member went to Ibrahim and told her she wanted to sell homespun food at local farmer's markets. Ibrahim contacted Toronto Public Health to ask how the woman could be certified to handle food for public consumption and they told her that if she found enough people willing to participate, they could do a certification course for free.
'The feedback they are getting, what they are making — it is awesome. People love the food.' - Sureya Ibrahim, community organizer
From there the collective grew into full technique and cookery classes at the Paintbox Bistro on Dundas Street East, where members have access to full commercial kitchen.
Word has quickly spread, and now the collective has catered to an impressive and growing list of clients, including the Toronto District School Board and federal Liberals.
Roman Mulugetta is a member of the collective. Her unique recipe for sambusas, a dish popular in northeast Africa, has become an instant hit. She's served up her sambusas at numerous catered events, and she says the biggest reward is being "valued" for her skill.
Ibrahim says for many of the members, the real payoff is helping to provide for their loved ones.
"This is the first time many will also be bringing money to their families. And now moms can buy anything for their children," she says.
Chris Klugman, chef and partner at Paintbox Bistro, has taught many of the collective's cooks in the kitchen. He says that some of the group are ready to go to the next level and cook restaurant quality dishes.
"We'll be asking some of our talented home cooks to actually make the transition to preparing food items for us to sell on our menu."