VERNON - With an hour to go before doors open, Chef Vincent Van Wieringen gives the sous-chefs and servers a final pep talk: be light with the drizzle of demi-glace on the braised beef, don’t let a water glass go unfilled, and do not, repeat not, drop a plate.
Tablecloths have been smoothed, cutlery laid out, and bouquets arranged. Guests are already lining up outside, hunkering down against the chill, looking forward to a hot meal. They have no idea the soup kitchen has been transformed into a five star restaurant dubbed Chez Charlotte.
Lisa Anderson, with the Upper Room Mission, says they wanted to recognize Vernon’s homeless community with a surprise dinner as part of Homelessness Action Week, Oct. 12-18.
“It’s for them to all get together, get pampered and experience something they’ve never experienced before, or haven’t for a long time,” Anderson says. “I can’t wait to see their faces.”
The dinner follows a week of forums and symposiums, and the unveiling of a homeless memorial in Polson Park. The memorial recognizes the recent deaths of 14 homeless people in the community, as well as the many lives lost before them. The Mission’s general manager Rick Lavin says the dinner is something of a memorial reception.
“They’re coming together like any family to grieve and celebrate the lives of friends and family,” Lavin says.
The Mission serves three meals a day for anywhere between 80 to 100 plus guests, and they aren’t all necessarily homeless. It’s the working poor, families, and seniors. Tonight, those guests will be treated to cucumber carpaccio with a strawberry yogurt dressing, topped with hemp seeds for an appetizer; braised beef short rib with smoked cheddar polenta, rainbow carrots, a blueberry demi-glace sauce (a type of gravy), yam chips and micro-greens for the main; and a blackberry coulis with lemon pana cotta and lady fingers for dessert.
“Our own cooks are very, very good, and this is a learning experience for them to work with a professional chef. They’re super excited. I joked with them this is raising the bar,” Lavin says.
Chef Van Wieringen, the executive chef at the Vernon Golf and Country Club, prepared the menu specially for tonight and has a personal reason for doing so.
“I am a recovering drug addict,” he says. “I had a really hard time in my life, made big mistakes and paid the repercussions.... I probably know 40 per cent of the people here from my past.”
The Seaton Secondary School grad got his life in control, earned a culinary arts degree, and has been in recovery now for eight years. He’s used the Mission’s services before, and understands what this meal means for tonight’s guests.
“To have a nice meal and know people appreciate you, having people to welcome you, pour your water, and treat you like a person is huge,” Van Wieringen says.
Guests were welcomed in to Chez Charlotte’s last Friday, Oct. 17. Groups were welcomed at the door and asked, ‘For how many?’ before being escorted to their seats to enjoy Van Wieringen’s three course meal, live music, and each other’s company.
Special thanks go to the Vernon and District Metis Association, the Vernon Golf and Country Club, Norval Rentals, Sunshine Laundry, Vernon Secondary Students in the Global Village program, Cisco Foods, and local agencies such as the John Howard Society, the primary care nurse, probation services, and the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society.
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