Mental health advocates serve up food and opportunity at new restaurant

Coast Mental Health has launched a new restaurant on Vancouver’s West Pender Street: Social Crust Café and Catering. It serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays and catering services seven days a week.

'There's also a sense of community, belonging, and purpose. It's really a beautiful thing'

One of the dishes served by Social Crust Café and Catering: fried basa noodle soup. (@social_crust/Instagram)

Coast Mental Health is giving youth with mental health issues the chance to gain culinary skills and training.

The non-profit, which supports and advocates for people with mental health challenges, has launched a new restaurant on Vancouver's West Pender Street: Social Crust Café and Catering. It serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays and catering services seven days a week, and is also home to a culinary skills program taught by industry-trained chefs.

It offers hands-on education and experience to adults aged 19 to 30 who are living with mental health issues or who face other barriers to employment.

"Being at Social Crust allows them to gain technical culinary skills as well as essential life skills in a place that's safe, supportive, and nonjudgmental," On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson told host Gloria Macarenko.

"The more time they spend in the kitchen or on the floor, the more their confidence develops. … There's also a sense of community, belonging, and purpose. It's really a beautiful thing to witness."

Johnson said students may be dealing with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism, borderline personality disorder, or other conditions. Some have cognitive delays and many have concurrent disorders or are recovering from addiction. Anyone can apply and people can refer themselves to the program.

The café also hosts special events several times a year called Guest Chef Night.

Johnson attended the first edition last week, where celebrated local chef Scott Jaeger of the Pear Tree restaurant co-hosted a long-table dinner with some of the students.

On the menu was toasted brioche, a scallop consommé, slow-roasted Pemberton Valley sunchokes with Canadian grains, Yarrow Valley duck and, for dessert, chocolate-pear mousse in the shape of a pear with toasted hazelnuts.

"Everything was exquisite," Johnson raved. "And proceeds from the dinner go back into the program, so this was a meal that made a difference."

The next Guest Chef Night is planned for early spring, Johnson said.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast