With the season changing and umbrellas and pumpkin spice everywhere we look, we know we have entered Autumn. We get to stare in awe at nature’s canvas, taking delight in the rich colors that are so intrinsically significant of Fall – oranges, browns, deep reds. It seems poetic that October should be Diversity Awareness Month.
I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic, reminiscing of seasons past and a different world where we would be ready to embrace holidays and family time. I think we can all agree the last two years have brought about a change none of us were ready for. Reflecting on that, I couldn’t help but wonder how others were impacted and what things they missed most.
What is Diversity? It is defined as individual uniqueness; traits such as race, gender, age, political or social views to name a few, that set us apart from others. In Vancouver, we boast a variety of cultures with a diverse culinary scene celebrating individual uniqueness. The culture and community in our Commissary is no different as we recognize our members bustling day in and day out with their unique offerings.
Nihal Elwan – Tayybeh Syrian
We start our diversity appreciation with the team of Tayybeh Syrian. Tayybeh is a social-enterprise of women refugees who came together sharing their love for their country, their cuisine, their customs and their challenges – leaving behind their homes and transitioning to a country that kept them safe.
Tayybeh’s founder, Nihal Elwan hails from Egypt and shares with us her privileged upbringing which gave her access to education and opportunities, and this lead her to take action towards the inequity many women like the members of Tayybeh face.
Nihal created an environment for the Tayybeh women to feel safe while taking on new roles as breadwinners for their families, a role that traditionally belonged to men. When I asked Nihal about Tayybeh’s menu, she let us in on the diversity of the cuisine of Syria; much like Italian or Indian cuisine, each dish tasted slightly different from region to region – so despite being from the same country, the women had a unique way of preparing each item. In creating the menu for Tayybeh, the women were able to cultivate special ways of creating dishes they loved and over their similarities, they also learned to appreciate and integrate their differences.
I asked Nihal, “What does Diversity mean to you?” and she replied,
“A sincere openness to, equal acceptance of, and genuine excitement about the wealth of experience that human beings of all backgrounds and cultures bring to our society.”
Jessica Kruger – The Stubborn Baker
When you walk into Commissary Connect at 417 Industrial Ave, you can see Jessica at the oddest hours quietly working away as she concentrates on the delicate task to create memories for her customers most special occasions – from weddings to birthdays and gender reveals; her role as a baker can be demanding and stressful at times to ensure her clients have the desired finished products they envisioned, but it’s also incredibly satisfying and rewarding because she is living her dream.
I was fortunate enough to have some one-on-one time with Jessica getting to know her on a more personal level. I started by asking her the meaning behind the name, The Stubborn Baker, to which Jessica revealed an ongoing challenge to this day.
When an accident left her paralysed and completely altered her life, Jessica found strength and determination from within to face every challenge that came her way; from not being accepted into programs, having her capabilities underestimated at a glance, to the challenges of combating societal perception. It was “stubbornness” that kept her going and ultimately resulted in her starting her own business, a place she carved for herself where her creativity and abilities could flourish. For Jessica, diversity goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity. An inclusive space that accommodates and celebrates individuals with various backgrounds, unique situations and different abilities where people can thrive is a place she considers beautiful and diverse.
Laura and Mark – Home, Cocina Colombiana
At our bustling Commissary Gourmet location while bakers are baking and tacos are flipping – there is one couple that works in tandem – in a rhythm only they understand. Colombian music fills the atmosphere around them as roll out perfect Arepas and fill savoury Empanadas. Chefs Laura and Mark are not only a couple in love, but also partners in a business they developed with love.
Mark was born in Canada to Filipino parents and Laura was born in Bogota, Colombia where her family still resides. The two met at culinary school in Canada and the rest is history. An instant romance blossomed between the two and it wasn’t until after they were married where Laura realized how little Mark and other Canadians knew about her beloved, colorful Colombia. The negative stereotypes associated with corruption and drugs were all anyone seemed to associate with a country that was so much more. A trip to Colombia was in order and finally Mark was able to experience the place that was a part of his wife’s heart forever.
Spellbound by astonishing mountain views and surrounded by warm, sandy beaches, Mark took in the music, art, culture and cuisine that was so rich in Colombia. From fresh grown fruits and vegetables to fresh decadent coffee, from historical art-work to talented murals on barrio walls – the one thing Mark was most touched by was the Colombian spirit. Despite the issues they faced, Colombians continued to be nurturing of their traditions and a caring people. With a whole new perspective, Mark joined Laura in her quest to educate people about the real Colombia – her Colombia – and set aside their conventional negative stereotypes. And just like that, Home, Cocina Colombiana was born.
By nourishing people with delicious Colombian cuisine, Laura not only gets to do what she loves – cooking and creating – but also gets to reminisce and share her childhood favorites, and Mark gets to do what he loves: make his wife happy and surround himself with good food. Or as he puts it, to keep “Creating it, copying it, tasting it, sharing it.” The highlight at the end of Laura’s day is the positive feedback she gets from Colombian customers who feel like they finally have some authentic Colombian food in Vancouver as well as customers who have never tried Colombian food but now keep it as a staple.
Laura loves that she can bring her old Home, culture and cuisine to her new Home and she cherishes the diversity Mark and the diverse city of Vancouver have brought her after growing up in a country where almost everyone is Colombian. “Vancouver …. shows me how similar we all are through our differences. Acknowledging these differences can teach us all how to be better people to each other.”
From multicultural backgrounds to copious cuisines, we are honored and proud to offer a diverse and inclusive community within our Commissaries.
Jean Jacques Kabuya (Chef Jacques) is all about good food. He began his career by cooking at small events for friends and family, but as word got out and catering requests increased, he realized that he could turn this into the business he always wanted.
Anita Lopez started Cinco Estrelas, a Portuguese catering company, as a way to spend more time with her son while also generating an income. Her family used to own a restaurant called Cinco Estrelas and it was a big part of her childhood. She wanted to offer the same experience to her son.