When chef Tyler Day was looking to become his own boss—after a decade of putting in 16-hour days at some of Vancouver’s top restaurants and Michelin-starred spots elsewhere—he wanted to do more than pursue his passion for food. He wanted to make a difference. He found his avenue in One Planet Catering.
“It’s more of a social movement than a catering company,” the 28-year-old says in an interview at the company’s Railway Street headquarters. “It’s about spreading sustainability in the name of food.”
One Planet Catering calls itself B.C.’s first green catering company. Besides offering breakfast and cocktail-party menus, it focuses on office lunches. But there’s more to it than the gourmet sandwiches Day designs—which include triple-A beef and Stilton served on a brioche baguette with caramelized-onion mayonnaise, and Thai albacore tuna on naan with mango and Asian coleslaw.
First, there’s the company’s environmentally friendly packaging: forget Styrofoam boxes and cardboard containers. Every meal comes in a locally made cedar box, with individual ceramic salt and pepper shakers and real cutlery and dishes; salads come in good, old-fashioned Mason jars. Office lunches are delivered by bike, with big orders toted around in bicycle-powered rickshaws.
Then there’s the use of local, all-natural ingredients—complete with information on their source and nutritional value. There are no preservatives, additives, or artificial colours, to the appeal of eco- and health-conscious foodies.
And there’s the company’s commitment to giving back to the community: two percent of sales goes to Quest Food Exchange, which helps people in need access healthy food. (Consider that nearly 80 percent of grocery or corner stores in the Downtown Eastside do not carry fresh produce.) One Planet Catering also provides the organization with freshly made meals, which it distributes to local food programs.
In fact, when I met with him, Day and his team were preparing to make 500 kilograms of chili to be delivered in big pails to the Union Gospel Mission and shared with 1,100 people in the Downtown Eastside.
“We wanted to build a company that’s about bettering the planet,” says Day’s business partner, chef-entrepreneur Ben Côté. (The two recently took over from founder Michael Kraus.) “With industrialization and manufacturing and processed food, food has changed more in the last 50 years than in the last 10,000. The population is becoming ill. Hunger is a huge problem. There are still people who don’t know that McDonald’s is bad for them. Things need to change for the better.”
Côté is behind Etuvé, a company that makes sous vide, boil-in-a-bag products that are sold across the country. Sous vide, French for “under vacuum”, is a method of cooking food in airtight, vacuum-sealed pouches in a water bath for long periods at a low temperature. It yields perfectly tender, abundantly flavourful results. Sous vide is also a cooking technique used at One Planet Catering.
“You can cook beef for 36 hours and still have it medium rare, with concentrated, full flavours,” says Day, who got his early training at Earls before going on to work in kitchens at Bishop’s, Bistro Pastis, Diva at the Met, and most recently CinCin, among others. Of his time at New York’s Oceana, he says gruelling days in front of the grill gave him the skills every independent business owner needs.
“There’s no better learning ground than doing 14, 16, 18 hours a day six days a week—even though it kills you,” Day says. “In New York I had people shaking beside me, tears rolling down their face, with the chef yelling at them. But it builds character. It builds work ethic.”
Then, of course, there’s his ability to pull off delicious food. The Mediterranean chicken sandwich, for instance, consists of impossibly tender bites—thanks to that sous vide cooked bird—along with Kalamata olives, watercress, feta, hummus, and tzatziki, on a brioche baguette. Including the choice of a side salad—it could be Mexican quinoa or German potato salad (no mayo)—or soup (such as roasted Portobello and truffle mushroom) along with dessert (possibly cheesecake with fresh berries or lemon tart), a bike-delivered cedar lunch box comes to $15.99 or less ($8.99 or less for sandwich only).
Day will be revamping the menu soon, and there’s talk of a café. Côté has also used the company’s space to create a replica of the kitchen used in the Bocuse d’Or competition, and members of the Canadian team (some of whom Côté did his chef training with) have begun practising in it. (A TV show about the team’s prep for the Stanley Cup of cooking is in the works.)
“Our motto is ‘Helping people eat better,’ ” Côté says, adding that in the age of Monsanto, “that’s more important now than ever.”